|At Issue Index EGW Index Part I|
Presented at Sligo Church, October 29, 1980
Last week I suggested that the role of Ellen White within the church was intended to be a corporate or cooperative experience consisting of exegetical and non-exegetical functions and that by assigning to Mrs. White roles that were designed to be the responsibility of the corporate body, or by failing to fulfill that exegetical function, the church has not fully realized certain currently-relevant contributions of the gift of prophecy:
Last week we dealt primarily with the first two points and I would like to center upon the third tonight.
I defined my use of the terms exegetical and non-exegetical as follows:
Exegetical functions: Strict exposition of Bible passages that lead to a final conclusion of the meaning of those passages. The route to a theological conclusion. I emphasized that, in my opinion, this was the corporate responsibility of the church and was not designed to be the function of the gift of prophecy.
Nonexegetical: I avoided defining this, but illustrated it by suggesting that any other Ellen White roles applied and for my purposes I made my point by quoting Mrs. White: "Kellogg teaches 'pantheism,'" Ballenger "mystifies the gospel," Prescott "has truth mixed with error." These nonexegetical functions often represent a conclusion, but do not outline the theological route to that conclusion. They did not resolve the theological problems of Kellogg, Ballenger or Prescott. Such resolution was left to those individuals and to the church.
I suggested that both exegetical and nonexegetical functions were vital to solidify a conclusion.
Here is an outline of what I propose to present tonight:
1. Presentation of two competing concepts of the role of Ellen White: concepts held by "pioneers" versus views held by "progressives." The pioneers wanted an exegetical role for Ellen White; they believed that one of her functions was to resolve theological problems. The progressives believed that only the Bible should be used to resolve theological problems.
2. Illustration of the two views coming into direct confrontation over the controversy regarding the "daily" of Daniel 8.
3. Issues of the 1919 Bible Conference and its aftermath. The question of the role of Ellen White was the central issue.
4. W. C. White and his views regarding Ellen White's role. His attitude toward corporate responsibility and a non-exegetical role for Ellen White.
5. "Writing and Sending Out of the Testimonies to the Church." Ellen White's vision of being torn apart and the nature of the issues resolved by this Ellen White publication.
Pioneers and Exegesis from Ellen White
In 1904, former president of the General Conference, G. A. Irwin wrote to A. G. Daniells, the current president, about the alliance Daniells was forming to combat the Living Temple apostasy. Irwin wrote:
"While this is the most gigantic apostasy that has as yet taken place in this denomination, God can, and will overrule it to his own glory and the advancement of his cause. . . . So long as you stand by the old landmarks and are true to the Spirit of Prophecy you can count upon me to stand by and hold up your hands to the extent of my ability." [June 5, 1904, AU 11, bk. 1, pp. 31, 33]
In alluding to that same crisis, Stephen Haskell, another pioneer, noted that, although the people would face severe difficulties during the time when the mark of the beast would be enforced, he stated: "But a fiercer conflict is within, in the church itself; and this is over the spirit of prophecy. . . . The severest conflict. . . . that the people of God will pass through, the most trying and heart-searching, will be over the Testimonies of the spirit of prophecy." [Haskell, "The Crisis," RH, May 10, 1906, pp. 8-9]
The alliance that Daniells was trying to form, was not as easy to do as might be assumed. Granted that the Living Temple issues were significant, but for some reason people like Haskell, Butler, and other "pioneers" seemed as opposed to W. A. Spicer, A. G. Daniells, W. W. Prescott, as they were to A. T. Jones, E. J. Waggoner, J. H. Kellogg. That is, until the latter openly attacked Ellen White and until she clearly opposed the Living Temple theology. We must ask why this was so. I believe the following points are relevant:
1. Both groups, the "pioneers" and the "pantheists" tended to use the Ellen White writings as an exegetical tool. They were inclined to resolve their issues with a word from Ellen White.
2. Daniells, Prescott, and Spicer held to a different concept of the role of Ellen White.
Thus when Irwin stated that Daniells could count upon his support "so long as you...are true to the Spirit of Prophecy" he was really proclaiming a short-lived alliance, unless there was some way to harmonize the conflicting understandings of the work of Ellen White.
Notice Irwin's concept: "The Spirit of Prophecy is the only infallible interpreter of Bible principles, since it is Christ through this agency giving the real meaning of his own words." [Irwin, "The Mark of the Beast," p. 3]
Irwin applied this idea to Ellen White's writings that involved history, science, etc. He believed that because of the nature of her inspiration, she had the ability to select true statements from false and by virtue of her selection all her statements were infallibly true.
Haskell's position was similar.
Notice how Stephen Haskell deals with W. W. Prescott on the meaning of the term "Babylon," in Revelation 14 and 18 and the "daily" of Daniel 8. [You will recall that Prescott, until 1911, was considered "unorthodox" regarding the meaning of "Babylon" and here we find Haskell's observation]: "We ought to understand such expressions ["daily" and "Babylon"] by the aid of the Spirit of Prophecy. This is the way many expressions in the Old Testament were understood in the days of the early disciples; that is, by the Spirit of Prophecy in the New Testament. For this purpose the spirit of prophecy comes to us. It is from the standpoint of the third angel's message with the spirit of prophecy, all points are to be solved."
Haskell went on to affirm that taking a new position on the "daily" would destroy confidence in the gift of prophecy. He wrote this not only to Prescott, but also to Ellen White. Note his statement to her:
"It is not so much because the doctrine itself would be so bad, were it not for the influence it will have on many minds concerning your testimonies. There are many of our brethren who think your testimonies are changed; and that because of this they are not reliable. That the light you have had in the past can be changed to new views, and these brethren think that 'Early Writings' teaches in direct opposition to these new views. And right here is the worst effect of these new views on our people." [Haskell to Prescott, Nov. 15, 1907, RG 58 LEF Ref. Files, 1920s-30, "The Daily," fld. 1; to Ellen White, Dec. 6, 1909, WCW Corresp., 1901--Haskell, S. N. WE]
It is of vital importance that Ellen White would issue the testimony on that "daily" that she later did, despite the assertion of Haskell that such would destroy confidence in her gift. This, however, is precisely what she did in 1910 and also precisely what she did in 1888-1890 concerning the question of Galatians when similar assertions were made.
Haskell believed that, just as the New Testament magnified the Old Testament, so did the gift of prophecy magnify the New Testament. He concluded that Early Writings "will settle nearly every point that people question at the present time concerning the message." [To Daniells, Sept. 29, 1903, RG 9, AGD #1 fld.; to W. C. White, Aug. 6, 1920, WCW bk. 146, 1920-22--H, WE]
He also considered that even studying the question of the new view of the daily was, in effect, an insult to God. He wrote this to Ellen White:
"You can readily see that is why every person who had an experience in the early days of the message do not wish to discuss this question. They feel that it is an insult to the Spirit of the Lord, to go to the Lord and pray for light on a matter that He has settled. . . . You can see that there is no hope of these old people who lived back in the early days of the Message being converted to this new light; even if they bring volumes of histories to prove it. Because they give more for one expression in your testimony than for all the histories you could stack between here and Calcutta." [To Ellen White, May 30, 1910, DF 202: "Daily"]
Notice how seriously Haskell took this question:
"If it comes to pass that I must be told what the Testimony does mean and other people are hanging on this very point I shall defend the testimony even if it breaks the last friend I have on the earth." [To Daniells, Mar. 22, 1908, RG 21 "Special Files, " Daniells: "The Daily," section 1]
Haskell observed that the conclusion that the "new view" of the daily was out of harmony with Ellen White's writings was very widespread. He claimed, "There are many of our people, presidents of our conferences as well as lay members, who understand very distinctly and believe it with all their hearts, that 'Early Writings' teach this question as settled. . . . They understand that the question was settled so that, if a sentence, or paragraph...can be changed...[it] is a direct violation of what God showed Sister White." [To Daniells, Mar. 13, 1910, RG 11, 1910--H]
Haskell wrote the following to L. A. Smith, son of Uriah Smith, who held views similar to those of Haskell:
"You seem to have fears that this position on the 'daily' according to Brethren Prescott, Daniells, Conradi, and others, will prevail. I have no such fears. If the whole United States, and Europe, Australia, and Africa, should rise up and proclaim that view correct, it would make no difference to me, unless the testimony of Sister White should say so. There is no use in being like a leaf in the wind, swayed to and fro." [Jan. 21, 1909, W. C. White Correspondence, 1901--Haskell, S. N., WE]
Haskell would thus change his position only if an Ellen White testimony was given to resolve the issue. This is a logical position, if we assume that Ellen White had made an exegetical statement on the "daily" in Early Writings. Of course, such a viewpoint leaves no corporate responsibility relative to Ellen White and such a reinterpretation by Ellen White would no longer be possible after her death in 1915. I believe that Haskell's position minimizes the value of the gift of prophecy for today.
Neither Irwin nor Haskell were isolated cases in their understandings of the role of Ellen White. They represented a major school of thought and remarkably similar views were held by J. N. Loughborough, G. I. Butler, I. H. Evans, Daniel Kress, F. C. Gilbert, O. A. Johnson, Leon Smith, Luther Warren, J. S. Washburn, Claude Holmes, and a host of others. We will note some of the consequences of the various views as we look at the 1919 Bible Conference and its aftermath a little later. All seemed to express the fear of Leon Smith, editor of Southern Watchman:
"This new view of the daily virtually contradicts the spirit of prophecy. It would have us believe that when the Lord said, 'a correct view of the daily,' he did not mean what he said but meant a correct view of the time period of 2300 days. . . . It would have us believe that Great Controversy is mistaken in saying that paganism triumphed in the fourth century. And it would have us believe that the platform upon which we have stood all these years, and which has stood the test against all assaults from without, is not so firm as is stated in 'Early Writings,' and that it now needs to be patched up. And the Lord only knows how many others, if encouraged now by leading men among us, will rise up later and find new places where the old platform needs changing over. It is all calculated to weaken and confuse us on the spirit of prophecy, the very point where most of our people need strengthening." [L. A. Smith to Ellen White, July 21, 1909, DF 201: Daily Correspondence]
Progressives and Ellen White
At the time that former members like A. T. Jones, E. J. Waggoner, J. H. Kellogg, A. F. Ballenger and many others were outside of the church and attacking the writings of Ellen White, others like A. G. Daniells, W. A. Spicer, W. W. Prescott worked toward arriving at a definition of the role of Ellen White that did not include exegesis.
The time was dangerous, however, for the "pioneers" believed such a concept was destructive of Ellen White, and tended to place the progressives within the same camp as pantheists.
The progressives did not consider that Mrs. White had ever claimed exegetical authority. They considered that the Bible should be its own interpreter and that appeal should not be made to some other "visible authority" to interpret the Scriptures. Such methodology, Prescott affirmed, would eventually result in the church being led step by step to substituting other authority for that of the Bible.
The progressives, thus, opposed submitting issues of a doctrinal or theological nature to Mrs. White for her judgment. They asserted that they did not consider that it was Mrs. White's "province to act as judge in...matters of historical or Biblical" interpretation. They likewise believed that there was great danger in asserting too great a claim upon the ministry of Ellen White, for when the evidence clearly refuted such interpretations of the gift, she would be discredited.
W. A. Spicer stated it this way after Ellen White issued her testimony on the daily:
"I am very glad [Ellen White] did not indorse the new opinion [of the 'daily,' which Spicer endorsed] for that is not what is needed. We do not want any infallible declaration as to our own views about it, for we shall study more and learn more. All through its history that gift [gift of prophecy] has insisted that it should not be advanced in place of the Word, and that its design was not to give new doctrines not found in the Word of God. The Bible is complete, and thoroughly furnishes the man of God unto all good works. [To L. R. Conradi, Sept. 7, 1910, RG 21, bk. 53, p. 960; to J. S. Burnett, Sept. 4, 1910, Ibid.,. pp. 913-14]
Spicer argued against the concept of the pioneers that faith in the gift of prophecy had to rise or fall depending upon the interpretation one accepted of the "daily." He wrote L. A. Smith:
"I believe the Daily will have to be settled on its merits as a question of Bible statement and historical fact, and not upon the basis of what men have believed in the past." [Nov. 9, 1909, RG 21 bk. 52, p. 351]
He wrote C. P. Bollman: "We would be in sore trouble if we attempted to hold that all the views of prophecy that were taught in the first 20 years of the Review must be held to now. For instance, the Review used to argue editorially that the new birth had no relation to conversion, but was the resurrection. Do not mention these things, for I do not mention it as any criticism. In many other things also in later years prophetic interpretation was changed, such as in the seven churches and in the seven seals. But all that is needed is to recognize the fact that all questions of interpretation must be brought to the standard of the Word of God and the testimony of history, when historical facts are involved, and all will be well." [May 3, 1910, RG 21 bk. 53, p. 795]
Indeed, Spicer noted that there was a "school of handling the Testimonies by an arbitrary process that cannot stand," and that the entire question of "interpreting the instruction of the testimonies" needs careful investigation. [To A. G. Daniells, W. T. Knox, W. C. White, Dec. 26, 1911, RG 21 bk. 57, p. 460]
Prescott observed; "Such dealing with the spirit of prophecy, instead of establishing confidence in it, will bring it into discredit, and will confuse the minds of the people concerning its authority." [W. W. Prescott, "The Daily: A Brief Reply to Two Leaflets on This Subject," p. 15]
In 1911, when the denomination was still waiting for an acceptable response to the attacks of A. F. Ballenger on the denominational position on the sanctuary, F. M. Wilcox, editor of the Review, suggested that Prescott refute Ballenger.
Prescott said that such could not be done, because Ballenger could only be refuted by a contextual treatment of Daniel 8, and by 1911 a contextual study of Daniel 8 could not openly occur.
Such an amazing development was the result of the intensity of feeling that resulted over the debate on the "daily."
Why should such a seemingly remote theological question generate such feeling? Positions solidified according to interpretations of Daniel 8:11-13 and a statement made in Ellen White's book Early Writings:
[Daniel 8:11-13]: "Yea he magnified himself even to the prince of the host, and by him the daily sacrifice was taken away, and the place of his sanctuary was cast down. And an host was given him against the daily sacrifice by reason of transgression, and it cast down the truth to the ground; and it practiced, and prospered. Then I heard one saint speaking, and another saint said unto that certain saint which spake, How long shall be the vision concerning the daily sacrifice, and the transgression of desolation, to give both the sanctuary and the host to be trodden under foot?"
[Early Writings, pp. 74-5]: "Then I saw in relation to the 'daily' [Dan. 8:12], that the word 'sacrifice' was supplied by man's wisdom, and does not belong to the text; and that the Lord gave the correct view of it ['daily'] to those who gave the judgment hour cry. When union existed, before 1844, nearly all were united on the correct view of the 'daily,' but in the confusion since 1844, other views have been embraced, and darkness and confusion have followed. Time has not been a test since 1844, and it will never again be a test.
The view held by the pioneers was similar to that held by practically all the Millerites, and emphasized that the "daily" represented Roman paganism, while the "new view" interpreted the term to refer to the taking away of the knowledge of Christ's priestly mediation in the heavenly sanctuary by instituting a false mediatorial system.
One view depended upon literal, exegetical use of the Early Writings statement, while the other applied the Early Writings statement more broadly, and depended upon a Scriptural exposition of the term "daily."
Any look at the "daily" represented an enigma, and while we are not going to look at it all that closely, we need to recognize certain facts.
1. Ellen White did not consider it a test question, but a minor matter, and it only appears within a context of about 40 words in all of her writings and in 1910 she sent a testimony urging that "silence" was eloquence on the subject of the daily.
2. Almost all the participants considered the immediate theological question of whether the daily could represent paganism or not as a relatively minor question. Haskell noted that he had not preached on that subject in his entire ministry and "of course, personally, it don't amount to a hill of beans to me," he asserted.
Note the rest of Haskell's "hill of beans," statement, however: "It is not because it makes so much difference as far as the doctrine is concerning on the 'daily,' but it is undermining you mother's testimony. . . . I cannot help but see that there is a big crisis on in this denomination by Prescott, Wilcox, and Conradi pushing that view. . . . When I see all this coming I feel very much like taking a stand against holding any position next year in this Conference [Haskell was president of the California Conference], unless your mother has special light that I should." [Haskell to W. C. White, Dec. 6, 1909, W. C. White Correspondence, 1909--Haskell, S. N. WE]
L. A. Smith and F. C. Gilbert began a pamphlet controversy that accused those holding the new view of consciously subverting Ellen White by espousing that position. Notice their approach:
"The church of God has always had an infallible interpreter of the Word of God; were it not for this fact where would the people of God have been all through the ages? Why did God have prophets? Why did he give the church the gift of prophecy? Was it not that the church might have the true understanding of the Word of God? There are scores of texts in the Bible of which, if the Holy Ghost had not given the true interpretation of them, through the prophets of the Lord, we should never have known the meaning."
Gilbert continued: "I am convinced that the Hebrew rendering of the text is in harmony with the view which has been previously held by this people; and it must be the correct meaning of the word when the spirit of prophecy declares: "I saw that the view which the brethren held of 'the daily' is the correct one."
L. A. Smith continued that theme: "That a view contradicts the spirit of prophecy should, we think, be sufficient condemnation of it in the minds of all Seventh-day Adventists to cause them to drop it at the start." [L. A. Smith, F. C. Gilbert, "The Daily in the Prophecy of Daniel."pp. 3, 16-7, 24]
You can thus see that, just as two varying views of the role of Ellen White had come into conflict during the 1890s, so they came into conflict on the question of the 'daily.' The daily seems to be quite similar to the issue of Galatians, and both were resolved similarly. Mrs. White would again deny exegetical authority in resolving theological issues.
Just as the pioneers looked beyond the daily and saw a larger issue, the role of Ellen White, so did those holding the new view see something of greater importance.
Daniells gives his view of the importance of the issues in this letter to W. C. White [Jan. 3, 1910, RG 11 bk. 46, pp. 393-94]:
"I wish to say that the burden of Brother Prescott and myself also in this is not merely to have a controversy over Paganism, and when it was taken away. The matter pales before the importance of the glorious truth the Bible teaches regarding the ministry of Christ in the heavenly sanctuary. . . . [He speaks about a substitute system being instituted and then continues]. When this was revealed to Daniel, the question was raised, how long this substitute that could not save, should hide from the world that which can save. The answer that was given was that it should be until the expiration of the 2300 years. Then the sanctuary was to be cleansed. Some translations added the idea of vindication or restoration. Elder Olsen tells me that is the idea presented in the Norwegian. The proclamation of the third angel's message is the means by which the Lord is to bring back to the knowledge of the world the sanctuary and its saving ministry. I say again, that this glorious truth is so important that the question of when paganism was taken away shrivels up into a mere trifle. At the same time from the standpoint of historical truth and accuracy on our part requires that we still be candid and honest in our statements. [SDAs were being attacked because of the published Uriah Smith position on the daily. Since the denomination was coming into greater prominence than earlier, many considered that these exegetical questions should be corrected.]...But I assure you that if this were all that is at stake in this controversy, I would not waste much of my time arguing with men who persist in making claims utterly at variance with all the reliable history of the world. [According to Daniells, history proved conclusively that paganism was not taken away in 508 A. D.] I have now taken the time to make the effort to go over the best I can in my busy life the whole range of study, and I can not tell you the blessing that has come to me in this investigation. I believe that this truth regarding the ministry of Christ should have gone right along with the message of righteousness by faith that was given to us in 1888. . . . I wish you could study with care the whole range of truth involved in a true exposition of the prophecy of Daniel 8." W. C. White did make such a study and accepted the new view of the daily.
Why then did Ellen White urge silence on this subject in 1910. I think again we have to recognize that even this urging of "silence on the daily" is not exegetical in the sense that it necessarily applies forever as some did apply it some 40 years later. The testimony was exceedingly relevant in 1910, however.
Why was "silence" necessary in 1910?
Notice what G. I. Butler wrote Mrs. White just prior to her issuance of that testimony:
"I confess that I have felt totally opposed to this whole [daily] movement, and have felt it my duty to write out my views on the subject. If I know anything about being impressed by the Spirit of God to write on any subject, I felt it in writing what I have written on this. . . . I sent the manuscript to Brethren Loughborough and Haskell to read and consider, and, if they agreed it should be published, I requested them to write an endorsement of it. And then we would put it in a small pamphlet and send it out. I thought, coming from us all, that it would carry considerable weight. It is my opinion that our misguided brethren would find it a pretty big chunk to climb over. I cannot see why we old hands ought not to speak out on this great innovation, and stand for the old positions our people have endorsed, led by yourself, and your testimonies." [Butler to Ellen White, July 3, 1910, Butler, G. I., 1910-11, WE]
Within the historical context of 1910, with over a decade of disunity over the pantheism crisis, and much of the time with the pioneers being closer to the pantheists than they were to Prescott, Daniells or Spicer, the alignment that Butler proposed could have created a serious rift in the church.
Unity was especially important after the fundamental teachings of the church had been seriously weakened by the internalized gospel focus of the pantheists. In every area the pantheists held sway, the Sabbath, the three angels messages, even justification by faith, was nullified. There was a great need for continuing the pioneer-progressive alliance to reestablish those fundamentals.
Even given the Ellen White testimony on the daily, disharmony prevailed on this subject for another 40 years.
It is of significant interest to note that, prior to the Butler statement regarding aligning the pioneers against the new view, Mrs. White expected that the question of the daily would be resolved by a thorough Biblical study of the issue. Here is another case where I don't think that Mrs. White even considered that her Early Writings statement would be used as a means of resolving that issue.
She wrote the following to Stephen Haskell two months prior to her later testimony:
"I have been waiting for the time when there should be an investigation of the doctrines that Brother Daniells and others have been advocating. When is this to be? If Elder Daniells thinks that some of the interpretations of Scriptures that have been held in the past are not correct, our brethren should listen to his reasons, and give candid consideration to his views. . . . Is not the present a favorable time for you and others of our ministering brethren in this conference to meet with Elder Daniells for a thorough examination of the points of faith regarding which there are different views?" [Ellen White to Stephen Haskell, May 24, 1910, RG 21, Special Files, "The Daily," Section 1]
Only when the proposed conference did not take place and Butler was on the verge of publishing did Mrs. White issue the testimonies on the daily.
"Our Attitude Toward Doctrinal Controversy"
As W. C. White, who held to the new view of the daily, analyzed the issues he, as did others, looked beyond the theological dispute itself, and hoped that the proposed meeting of the disputants might afford opportunity to resolve certain fundamental questions.
He wrote Daniells in March of 1910 about some of the larger questions:
1. "How shall we deal with one another when there is difference of opinion?"
2. "How shall we deal with Mother's writings in our effort to settle doctrinal questions?" [To A. G. Daniells, Mar. 13, 1910, W. C. White Correspondence, 1910--Daniells, A. G.]
He consistently opposed using Mrs. White as an exegetical tool in resolving the issue. He wrote G. A. Irwin and F. C. Gilbert about his opposition to their policy of assuming that history and the Bible supported their argument, and about their tendency to use the Early Writings statement as the central basis for their argument.
He wrote his brother James Edson similarly warning of the "effect upon our cause at large...and what the effect may be upon the influence of Mother's writings, if a wrong policy and plan of handling these writings should be sanctioned and adopted." He continued:
"Let us avoid taking such a position as to encourage men in urging upon their brethren personal views of the meaning of certain passages in the Testimonies in a way to cast contempt and reproach upon their brethren who do not fully agree with them, and in a way that seems to obstruct the search for truth." You will notice that W. C. White is responding to his two larger questions:
1. How shall we deal with one another when there is difference of opinion?
2. How to deal with Ellen White's writings when they are involved in doctrinal questions.
He continued in his letter to his brother:
"If we fail to stand firmly for correct principles, we may soon be plunged into a condition of things wherein many earnest and radical minds will feel free to select a passage here and a passage there from the testimonies, and without proper regard to the context and to the teaching of the Bible and other passages in the testimonies, proceed to teach a mixture of truth and error that is unprofitable to the church. [This happened throughout the 1890s and would again occur in the 1920s and cost A. G. Daniells heavily. Some have even observed that it has happened today. W. C. White continues:]
"Let us avoid giving sanction to any man, or group of men, who take a disputed passage in the Testimonies, and putting their view of what it means in the strongest possible light, say that 'persons of influence in the denomination' who do not agree with the, 'contend that it does not mean what it says,' and that their view squarely contradicts the spirit of prophecy." [He is here quoting from the Smith-Gilbert pamphlet.]
W. C. White concludes: "Surely we can not give our approval to such methods of dealing with the Testimonies, and with the brethren." [W. C. White to J. E. White, June 1, 1910, RG 58, L. E. Froom Ref. Files, Elmshaven Materials fld.]
Mrs. White's position in the controversy assumed major significance. Actually, as early as 1908 she had destroyed the pioneer assumption that the Early Writings statement was an exegetical pronouncement for she had written both Prescott and Haskell that she had no special light "on the point presented for discussion." [Ellen White to W. W. Prescott, Jul1, 1908; DF 202, Daily; to S. N. Haskell, Aug. 28, 1908, ibid.]
Given this position, it was thus perfectly natural that Ellen White would expect that the issue be resolved by a meeting of the various disputants. You will recall, however, that Haskell considered that it would be an insult to God to even pray for light upon an issue that, in his opinion, the Lord had already resolved. The conference was never held.
Very significantly, the testimonies sent by Mrs. White to the central figures in the debate, Butler, Loughborough, Haskell, Smith, Gilbert, Prescott, and Daniells, dealt with the larger questions raised by W. C. White.
Mrs. White requested that her writings "not be used as the leading argument to settle questions over which there is now so much controversy." In noting that she had no specific instruction from the Lord on the "point under discussion," she again urged that her writings not be used in the debate. The testimony, dated July 31, 1910, was significantly entitled "Our Attitude Toward Doctrinal Controversy."
It cannot be emphasized too strongly that Mrs. White's statement completely destroyed the pioneer position that the Early Writings statement resolved the issue. Also, it should be remembered that Mrs. White made the statement despite the pioneer contention that people would lose confidence in her gift if it could be interpreted to mean differently from what the words seemed to indicate and from the interpretation place upon that statement for over 50 years.
In another testimony relating to the daily, Mrs. White condemned the L. A. Smith-F. C. Gilbert tract that raised serious question about the Daniells-Prescott relationship to her gift. She also told Butler that "The Lord has not placed upon you a burden regarding this matter," and informed Daniells that he should not have urged the issue to the front [as he did after the pamphlet was issued by Smith and Gilbert.]
This testimony, dated August 3, 1910, contained the following call for unity:
"We must blend together in the bonds of Christlike unity; then our labors will not be in vain. Draw in even cords, and let no contentions be brought in. Reveal the unifying power of truth, and this will make a powerful impression on human minds. In unity there is strength. [1 Selected Messages, pp. 164-68]
While the resolution of the exegetical question relative to Ellen White and the call for tolerance when examining doctrinal questions contain very important and far-reaching implications, it should be noted that the church paid a heavy price when it could not come together and examine a portion of Scripture without needing to receive Divine Counsel that urged "silence" on that subject.
This meant, for example. as Prescott pointed out, that there was consequently no unified way to respond to the Ballenger attack upon the denominational sanctuary position. The attempt by E. E. Andross failed, partially because it did not represent a unified approach to the issue. As late as 1932, Prescott was still waiting, he said, for an acceptable response to Ballenger.
I don't believe we can ever estimate the consequences of disunity--and historically we can readily see that the disunity usually resulted from the question of exegetical versus nonexegetical uses of the writings of Ellen White.
Let's notice the varied reactions to the testimonies concerning the daily. Those holding to the new view of the daily clearly considered the testimonies to have far-reaching implications. Spicer wrote this to Conradi:
"Brother Daniells tells me that he has seen a letter from Sister White, specifically telling Brethren Smith, Haskell, Loughborough, and Butler that they are not to use her writings in support of their views, or of anybody's views of the 'daily;' that the Lord has never revealed to her what the 'daily' is, but that what she has dealt with is when the 'Daily' is...I feel that we ought not to use this in any way as though it was a triumph. It simply states the thing as it ought to be. I am very glad she did not indorse the new opinion, for that is not what is needed. We do not want any infallible declaration as to our own views about it, for we shall study more and learn more, without a doubt. But this does call a halt on the effort to stifle legitimate study." [Sept. 7, 1910, RG 21, bk. 53, pp. 959-60]
Conradi wrote to A. G. Daniells: "I am glad that Sr. White has spoken so freely, that they ought not to quote her word in favor of certain views. I think if this would be laid down as a principle, it would make careful Bible study far easier for our people in the future." [Oct. 11, 1910, RG 11, 1910--C]
Notice, however, the reaction of G. I. Butler to the Ellen White testimonies. He wrote Ellen White:
"I do rejoice that you have taken steps to close up the controversy. . . . If the good brethren, Daniells, Prescott, and Conradi, had been left to still push their doctrine to the front, I should feel that I had just as good a right to express my mind upon the subject as anyone. I must consider that these brethren are solely responsible for ushering in this controversy. Those believing in the old view were in no sense responsible for getting up this controversy. They stood just as they always have for fifty years, or more in the past. Those claiming the new light of vast importance for our people to know alone ushered in the controversy; for certainly, there was no controversy before they began to put forth their new views. And, dear sister, your own standing and position has, all the time been, to the best of my light, one of disbelief as to their having any light of importance to present. You have not believed there was any light of importance in their views to present.
"Had there really been any light from God of importance, you would surely have been glad to receive light from Him at any time. [Please note that Butler's concept of exegetical responsibilities for Ellen White had not changed one jot.] So would I and all of us opposed to their view. Hence, there is no escape from the conclusion that this movement of theirs was out of place, and out of God's order. Had it been otherwise, you would have heartily accepted and endorsed it. This is all I claim in the matter. I sincerely trust the whole matter will be dropped, and that we shall be left in union and love, to move on as one man in the great work in which we are all enlisted." [G. I. Butler to Ellen White, Oct. 19, 1910, W. C. White Correspondence, 1910-11, Butler, G. I.]
Given this view, the seeds for disunity were still present and would continue to develop for at least another 40 years just on the subject of the daily. Notice this W. A. Spicer letter to R. C. Porter, Feb. 3, 1911:
[Daniel 8:11-13] 'is really a helpful little portion of Scripture. We shall not write about it up here for the present, as it would only hurt the feelings of a few who are so very strenuous in thinking that this is really a terrible apostasy. One good old brother, in fact, refers to what Sister White said about the Battle Creek apostasy as being the Alpha, and that the Omega would follow, and this new interpretation of the daily, he says, is the Omega. Of course all that is too bad," wrote Spicer.
Although the call for "silence" on the "daily" was designed to reestablish unity, the Bible versions controversy, the Columbia Union-General Conference friction of the 1930s, the reorganization battles over the 1931 Omaha Fall Council decisions, and indeed, disputes that continued at least into the 1950s, all directly related to a basic difference of interpretation over the inspiration of Ellen White and might be traced to the basic elements that formed over the dispute over the daily of Daniel 8.
1919 Bible Conference
The question of the role of Ellen White was central to the discussion held at the 1919 Bible Conference. Note these concepts taken down by Prescott as he listened to one of the speeches by A. G. Daniells at this conference:
"Sister White is not a Biblical exegesist. Her gift has not the gift of exegesis. . . . Are we to allow our conclusion of Bible to be blocked." [W. W. Prescott, Notes on talk of A. G. Daniells, July 30, 1919, L. E. Froom Personal Collection, Volume A, p. 16]
The question of Ellen White and exegetical functions arose several times during the conference. Prescott affirmed that his position of Babylon was held for years "when I knew it was exactly contrary to Great Controversy, but I went on, and in due time I became orthodox. . . . What settled me to take that position was the Bible, not any secular authority." [Aug. 1, 1919 Discussion, "Inspiration of the Spirit of Prophecy As Related to the inspiration of the Bible," pp. 26-7]
R. A. Underwood raised the question and applied it to issues over the change from the systematic benevolence system to tithing. Note Underwood's words to the delegates:
"The canon of the Scriptures was closed, and Sister White says so. She does not put her words on the same basis. Take the tithing question that Sister White has endorsed absolutely over and over again as the method by which God's servants should be supported. You go back in history when I embraced the truth, and we [did] not have any tithing system. We had then what was called systematic benevolence. But Elder Butler and Elder Morrison and a few of us studied the question of tithing...but I could give you the names of men who are now sleeping, and one who is living, who said, No sir, Sister White has endorsed systematic benevolence. . . . I wrote a series of 13 lessons on the tithing question for the Sabbath Schools to study, making the basis of the whole thing Christ's ownership. Our brethren came around and said Sister White never endorsed this." [Underwood Statement, July 10, 1919, p. 72]
He also made his point in an article published in the Review, May 1, 1919. Note Underwood's point:
"A few of the leading men of the General Conference began to see light in the tithing system of the Old and New Testaments. This was discussed at the General Conferences at different times, yet no decided action was taken. The argument presented against the tithing system was that Sister White had endorsed the plan of systematic benevolence...therefore we should make no change. However, some felt that the tithing system for the support of the gospel ministry could be clearly sustained from both the Old and New Testaments, and that the source from which we were to gather our instruction for the guidance of the church was primarily the Bible and not the testimonies. . . . While some of us felt that the tithing system for the support of the gospel ministry could clearly be sustained from both the Old and New Testaments, others favored adhering to the plan of systematic benevolence; therefore no action was taken by the General Conference further than to discuss the matter for two or three years after it was introduced into the General Conference for consideration."
Underwood's analysis illustrates the truth that the tithing plan was actually hindered from entering the church for a number of years because of the insistence of some using statements from the Ellen White writings as the basis for exegesis. [RH, May 1, 1919, p. 10]
At the 1919 Bible Conference both Daniells and Prescott referred to the experience of the daily and sought to broadly interpret the testimonies given by Ellen White that related to that issue.
Prescott made this observation: "There were some of the brethren who ranged themselves against what was called the new view, and they took [Mrs. White's] writings to settle that controversy. I think that ought to be remembered as being her own counsel when brethren that did claim to believe the Bible and the spirit of prophecy were divided over an interpretation, and it was a matter of public controversy." [Prescott, July 30 Discussion, p. 17]
Daniells likewise denied an exegetical role for Mrs. White. Notice this interchange between himself and Prescott:
"Prescott: How should we use the writings of the spirit of prophecy as an authority by which to settle historical question? "Daniells: Well, now, as I understand it, Sister White never claimed to be an authority on history, and never claimed to be a dogmatic teacher on theology. . . . She just gave out fragmentary statements, but left the pastors and evangelists and preachers to work out all these problems of scripture and of theology and of history. She never claimed to be an authority on history; and as I have understood it, where the history that related to the interpretation of prophecy was clear and expressive, she wove it into her writings; but I have always understood that, as far as she was concerned, she was ready to correct in revision such statements as she thought should be corrected." [July 30 Discussion, p. 16]
After Daniells enunciated this position he was challenged with a question that neither he nor others were able to resolve. C. L. Benson, dean and history teacher at Union College stated it this way:
"If there are such uncertainties with reference to our historical position [on the prophecies], and if the Testimonies are not be relied on to throw a great deal of light upon our historical positions, and if the same is true with reference to out theological interpretation of texts, then how can we consistently place implicit confidence in the direction that is given with reference to our educational problems, and our medical school, and even our denominational organization?" [Aug. 1, p. 4]
How can we maintain confidence in Ellen White if we differ with various portions of the same? I am suggesting a differentiation between exegetical and non-exegetical functions tied to a concept of a corporate interrelationship between the church and Ellen White as a possible beginning toward the resolution of that question.
Daniells' failure to come up with an answer to that question was costly, for even before the conference was over, F. M. Wilcox, editor of the Review, noted:
"I know that there is considerable talk around Takoma Park over positions that have been taken here, and there will be that same situation out in the field. . . . I think we have to deal with a very delicate question, and I would hate terribly to see an influence sweep over the field and into any of our schools that the Testimonies were discounted. There is great danger in these times of one extreme following another. There is great danger of a reaction, and I do feel concerned." [F. M. Wilcox, Discussion, Aug. 1, 1919, p. 3]
Aftermath of the 1919 Bible Conference
The aftermath of the 1919 Bible Conference affords abundant evidence that those central disputants in the "daily" debate failed to modify their position relative to the use of Ellen White's writings in any particular.
In fact, a newer generation of "pioneers" seemed to introduce an even more strident atmosphere into the arena of conflicting positions over the use of Ellen White.
Claude Holmes, linotype operator and Washington correspondent of Southern Watchman, was among the informal attendants at the 1919 Bible Conference. Holmes' extensive knowledge of the Ellen White writings gave him a reputation, in the days prior to available indexing, of being an authority on the writings. Review editors frequently called upon him to provide references and quotations from the writings.
In addition to his memory and intense study of the writings, Holmes acquired probably the largest private collection of Ellen White writings, published and unpublished, within the denomination.
Holmes' training as a linotype operator enabled him to prepare a multitude of private Ellen White compilations in type form and then pull proofs of the galleyed type at practically no expense.
After W. A. Colcord left the church in 1914, Holmes borrowed and copied over 300 typewritten pages of unpublished testimonies then in Colcord's possession.
As A. G. Daniells was traveling in the Far East in 1917, Holmes convinced someone that he had Daniells' permission to copy the bound volumes of unpublished Ellen White testimonies housed in the General Conference vault. Although it resulted in his dismissal from the Review, he thereby attained possession of hundreds of personal testimonies. This access to some of the personal testimonies sent to Prescott and Daniells greatly inflamed relationships.
One of the reaction of Claude Holmes to the 1919 Bible Conference resulted in his publishing an open letter in pamphlet form. Holmes decried the statements he heard at the Conference "again and again by a number of our Bible and history teachers that Sister White is not an authority on history." He interpreted the positions taken in 1919 to mean that the Conference concluded that Mrs. White selected relevant historical materials just as any researcher would. If the facts selected happened to be erroneous, they should be rejected. Holmes, however, believed that Mrs.. White selected from divergent historical sources those items that she recognized as truth and thereby those items became authoritatively and infallibly true. According to Holmes, everything dealt with by a prophet became authoritative. He believed that as much inspiration was required to distinguish truth from error as was required to present original truth. He continued:
"If her historical writings are to be discarded because she is not an 'authority on history,' then the logic of the situation forces us to the conclusion that all her writings must be thrown overboard, for historical facts are inextricably interwoven in all her messages. . . . One tells me her books are not in harmony with facts historically, another that she is wrong scientifically, still another disputes her claims theologically, and another questions her authorship, and others discredit her writings grammatically and rhetorically. Is there anything left? If these claims are all true, how much of the spirit of prophecy does the remnant church possess? [To J. S. Washburn, Apr. 1, 1920, "Have We an Infallible 'Spirit of Prophecy'?" DF 242: J. S. Washburn, WE]
An additional response of Holmes to the Conference consisted of his issuing a protest against the teachings of E. F. Albertsworth and H. C. Lacey, two of the three teachers from Washington Missionary College who attended the Conference.
Besides issuing his own protest, Holmes advised certain students to do the same. Although the student protests initially involved only Professor Albertsworth, because of the alleged "light esteem" that he exhibited toward Ellen White, the upshot of the episode resulted in the severance, by mid-1920, of all three of the WMC representatives at the 1919 Bible Conference and further problems between the General Conference and the Columbia Union.
J. S. Washburn, minister since the 1890s, believed that the debate on the daily ushered in the "greatest shaking our people have ever had," by causing a doubt and disbelief in Ellen White prophecy and he saw the 1919 Bible Conference as the continuation of that "terrible controversy." [To S. N. Haskell, Feb. 9, 1910, DF 201: Daily Correspondence, WE]
He brought the issues of the daily, WMC teachers, and 1919 Bible Conference together in a 16-page open letter to Claude Holmes, dated April 18, 1920.
He implied that the consensus from the Conference considered that Ellen White was not inspired on history, while some considered the writings uninspired regarding theology and health reform. He alleged that the position led "inevitably to infidelity, as was demonstrated by Dr. Albertsworth, recently dismissed summarily from the faculty by the College Board of Washington College."
Washburn published the information that the Columbia Union president, a year previous, attempted to rid the college of the three "infidel" teachers, but that the General Conference came to their assistance and instead "forced out of office," that president.
He noted that, although the three teachers differed in other beliefs, all three united in advocating "the new doctrine of the daily" and pictured that view as "besieging and threatening to desolate and destroy the work of God's last message at its headquarters, at its very heart. . . . Here is a remnant of the new phase of the world-old apostasy at our headquarters and in our principal Bible School."
Washburn assured the readers of his pamphlet that the three teachers would not be teaching at the college the next year. The "Omega apostasy" had received a setback at Washington Missionary College, he affirmed. [To C. E. Holmes, "The Startling Omega and Its True Genealogy," RG 58: L. F. Froom Reference Files, 1920s-30s, J. S. Washburn folder]
While the controversy intensified from that point onward, it was to reach a still more volatile point at the 1922 General Conference session.
Two open letters to A. G. Daniells, dated May 1, 1922, were among the items circulated to the delegates at the San Francisco General Conference session in 1922.
Claude Holmes, treating the Ellen White writings as though they were endowed with final exegetical authority, listed 12 specific areas wherein he believed that Daniells ignored or subverted Ellen White counsel.
Washburn's 36-page open letter was even more comprehensive in its accusations. He again accused Daniells of seeking to destroy Ellen White in order to uphold his teaching on the daily. He again combined the issues of the 1919 Bible Conference, the daily, and the question of the Washington Missionary College teachers. He concluded by appealing to the delegates for an investigation of all his charges. He stated that he was not fearful "that the representatives of our people will turn me down or out for standing for the original message and the spirit of prophecy."
Washburn claimed that his "Open Letter" was largely instrumental for defeating Daniells in 1922. Indeed, San Francisco newspaper accounts depicted Daniells emotionally defending his leadership, but decrying the bitter attacks against him and holding a "handful of written documents, which he said were the proofs of his charges of propaganda and vilification."
The defeat of Daniells in 1922 did not end the basic alignments that had begun to solidify much earlier. The Bible versions controversy, the Columbia Union-General Conference friction, the reorganization battles over the 1931 Omaha Fall Council decisions all resulted in conflict during the 1930s, and all directly related to a basic difference of interpretation over the nature of the inspiration of Ellen White.
The attacks by Claude Holmes, J. S. Washburn and the leadership of the Columbia Union in the 1920s and 1930s reveal that even the General Conference leadership was not immune from the consequences of an attack by those who would use Ellen White as an exegetical standard and judge others by that standard.
By 1932, F. M. Wilcox noticed disastrous consequences from the alienation. He noted that entire churches were stirred up and that college students were lining up their teachers as the whether they were "fundamentalist" or "modernist." Wilcox wrote C. H. Watson, president of the General Conference, that he believed it was necessary for the General Conference to "re-establish itself in the confidence of our people against the onslaughts which have been made upon [it]...by misguided individuals for a series of years." [F. M. Wilcox to C. H. Watson, Apr. 17, 1932, RG 21, "Special Files," Columbia Union folder]
W. C. White Concept of the Role of Ellen White
As early as 1882 Mrs. White received the following heavenly guidance:
"I will put My Spirit upon your son, and will strengthen him to do his work. . . . The Lord has selected him to act an important part in His work. For this purpose he was born."
And in 1907, Mrs. White received this word: "I have given you My servant, W. C. White, and I will give him judgment to be your helper. I will give him skill and understanding to manage wisely."
Mrs. White also stated: "The Lord has said to me: 'Bear the testimonies. Your work is not to settle difficulties; your work is to reprove, and to present the righteousness of Christ.'" [Ellen White, "The Writings and Sending Out of the Testimonies to the Church," pp. 8, 11-12]
While Mrs. White did not sense a burden to explain or defend her role, I believe we can profit greatly by exploring W. C. White's concept of the role of his mother.
We have already dealt with W. C. White's position regarding Ellen White's non-exegetical stance on the question of the law in Galatians and on the daily. We might note in passing that it is entirely likely that he gave the significant title "Our attitude Toward Doctrinal Controversy" to the testimony sent out in relation to the daily crisis.
He likewise frequently denied exegetical authority [if you will allow me to continue to misuse that term] to Mrs. White in her use of historical sources.
In 1915, F. M. Wilcox prepared a manuscript dealing with the role of Ellen White. The manuscript, which was submitted to W. C. White for criticism, contained the observation, "Sister White has not been set in this church as a historian or as a theologian." White observed that the statement was "undoubtedly true" in the technical usage of the terms, but feared that the statement might create an erroneous impression. He suggested the following substitute:
"Sister White, as a teacher of sacred truth, has not been led to a technical treatment of theological questions, but has given such views of the love of God and the plan of salvation, and of man's duty to God and to his fellow men, that when presented to the people, they arouse the conscience, and impress upon the hearer the saving truths of the Word of God. She says, 'The written testimonies are not to give new light, but to impress vividly upon the heart the truths of inspiration already revealed.'
"In the technical sense of the word, Sister White is not a historian. She has not been a systematic student of history and chronology, and she has never intended that her works should be used to settle controversies over historical dates. But as one who relates history, one 'in whose work the character and spirit of an age is exhibited in miniature,' she is a historian whose works teach valuable lessons from the past for the present and the future."
White had reacted similarly several years earlier when a writer for Southern Watchman used Great Controversy as an authority for certain historical assertions. W. C. White notes that Mrs. White objected to the use of her writings as authority "regarding the details of history or historical dates." [To F. M. Wilcox, Apr. 27, 1915, DF 107d: Testimonies, W. C. White Statements; W. C. White to W. W. Eastman, Nov. 4, 1912, DF 52b, WE]
Does this mean then that exegesis relative to historical or theological question is irrelevant? I don't believe you will convince historians or theologians on that point, but it does seem to me to again indicate corporate responsibilities relative to the Ellen White writings.
It would seem that Mrs. White relegated the "path" to her conclusion to others. Note how some within the church have consistently demanded more than was intended, however. Willie White wrote the following to W. J. Harris, Dec. 9, 1920:
"There has been a long and bitter controversy on the part of some as to whether the quotations that have been made in mother's writings from historians should be considered infallible, and all historical reckonings be brought in harmony with them. [Recall Claude Holmes pamphlet, "Do We Have an Infallible Spirit of Prophecy?" Many others held to a similar belief that Ellen White, because of her role as prophet, selected only the true and the selection of a prophet confirmed what was selected as truth.]
W. C. White continues: "It was not mother's plan or purpose to write books which should be used to correct history and chronology; the aim of her books is to bring out the great facts regarding the plan of redemption, and she has used historical quotations to illustrate the character of the controversy." [W. C. White to W. J. Harris, Dec. 9, 1920, WCW bk. 46, 1920-22--H, WE]
Notice this W. C. White reaction to someone who wanted to use the writings of Ellen White to resolve some question relative to the issue of dress, etc. A vital principal is here stated:
"Do the testimonies make things right or wrong? or, are the testimonies given to help us understand the Bible? And if so, is not the Bible our authority to be used in our efforts to teach the truth, the way, and the life? [To W. M. Crothers, July 16, 1908, WCW bk. 36, p. 113]
In the next statement W. C. White makes a very interesting comparison between the Bible and the writings of Ellen White in his response to a statement written by R. A. Underwood in 1921. W. C. White states:
"The Bible is [a] collection of inspired writings winnowed. The testimonies contain many writings which correspond to the writings of prophets and scribes that were essential to the people of God when given but which did not find place in the cannon of scripture."
He further elaborated upon that concept in an article he jointly authored with D. E. Robinson and A. L. White and that appeared in Ministry the month before his death. Notice this statement:
"We may well bear in mind that not all the writings of the Bible prophets were preserved for general reading for all time in the Bible. And we may reasonably conclude that the books mentioned but not included in the Bible, and the messages of prophets who were named, but who did not contribute to the Scripture canon, were of immediate importance to the people living at the time that they were written. However, being local in character, they were not needed for all time, and were with good reason not included in the Scriptures." [Reprintings, Revisions, and Additions," Ministry, Aug. 1937, p. 17]
White seems to be emphasizing that even as there is a difference in the "breadth of application" between the Bible and Ellen White, so likewise even within the spirit of prophecy writings themselves there likewise is a difference in the "breadth of application."
Note that this is far different from a concept of "degrees of inspiration."
According to W. C. White, Mrs. White expressed her concern over the dual problems of the unwise use made of testimonies that no longer applied because of changed circumstances and the opposite difficulty of the church suffering if relevant counsel was not available in time of need. [W. C. White to Clarence Santee and G. M. Alway, W. C. W. Correspondence bk. 178, 1923-24--Sa-St. Helena, WE; W. C. White to Executive Committee of GC, Oct. 3, 1921, F. M. Wilcox Personal Collection, Reference Files, Testimonies of Ellen White of Special Interest fld.]
This again seems to imply a corporate interrelationship between the church and Ellen White and it involves even non-theological areas.
Mrs. White, in reflecting upon the early period of denominational history noted that when a message from the Lord was given, she and her husband consulted with the "leading brethren" if they were present, "as to the best manner of bringing the instruction before the people."
W. C. White, in his understanding of the nature of the inspiration of his mother likewise considered, as we have noted, that a significant role pertaining to that gift was relegated to the church body. He quoted his mother as saying, "I have done my part. I have written out what the Lord has revealed to me. Now it is for you to say how it shall be used."
W. C. White considered this as entirely reasonable since the church leadership "were in contact with all the problems pertaining to the cause of present truth.' He observed:
"It was a wise provision of heaven that they should share in the responsibility of saying how and in what manner the messages should be placed before whom they were intended to benefit." [Ellen White, "The Writing and Sending Out of the Testimonies to the Church," n.d., p. 5; W. C. White to L. E. Froom, Jan. 8, 1928, RG 58: L. E. Froom Reference Files, 1920s-30s, White, W. C. fld; W. C. White, "The Anti-Meat Pledge," June 16, 1929, F. M. Wilcox Personal Collection, Reference Files, Testimonies of Ellen White of Special Interest fld.]
Sometimes, according to W. C. White, Mrs. White herself could not, or would not, explain or interpret a certain testimony. Note this highly significant W. C. White statement:
"At the General Conference when we reorganized the General Conference Association , and we were in great perplexity over the best method of work, Mother called together, in the committee room at the tabernacle, conference presidents and managers of institution, and read a testimony which was based upon Isaiah 8:12-4, which was decided reproof to us regarding confederacy.
"There were at that time, two plans for confederacy before us. One was our union with outsiders in the religious liberty work, and the other, the question of the scope of the work of the General Conference Association. Some applied the testimony altogether to the former. Some of us felt in our hearts that it should be applied to our plans for the General Conference Association also. But instead of getting together and studying and praying over the matter until we comprehended what it meant to us, we called another meeting and asked Sister White to come in and explain the matter that perplexed us. [They wanted Ellen White to do their exegesis for them.]
"We questioned her as to whether the message applied to what we were planning for in the reorganization of the General Conference Association. She said she could not answer that question. Then we said, 'Of course it does not apply to that.'
"We did not study and pray about it till we received light, but carried out our own plans. About six or eight years afterwards it was opened up to Mother plain and clear that the testimony was given us at that time to save us from going into those plans which resulted in binding together many lines of work in an unsatisfactory and unprofitable connection.
"Oftentimes, when we go to Mother and ask her to explain the things that she has said or written, she will say, 'I can not explain it; you should understand it better than I. If you do not understand it, pray to the Lord, and He will help you.' Is not that the right way to get a correct understanding of the Testimonies?" [W. C. White, "The Integrity of the Testimonies to the Church," Remarks at College View, Nebraska, Nov. 25, 1905, F. C. Gilbert Personal Collection. Box 4, untitled fld.]
W. C. White expressed his understanding of a corporate relationship between Ellen White and the church in various additional ways:
1. He urged that those familiar with the contextual background of various testimonies should record that background to assist in understanding the testimonies. Notice his explanation:
"The writers of the Bible had the courage to state facts, and then when the messages of the Lord are recorded in connection with these facts, both are understood. But in our day there is no one who seems to have to courage to state the facts, and when the Testimonies are published, from one-half to two-thirds of the readers do not know what the conditions are that are reproved.
"On the other hand, the men who are reproved are very active in stating their views of the situation. These men do not understand their own position and the result of their works; it is because they are in blindness that the Testimony is given, and yet their statements regarding the situation are allowed to go all over the field and our people become confused and apply the Testimony falsely, and then when their false application is shown to be wrong, they are still more confused; and so the matter goes."
White proposed a solution: "It is my conviction that if the officers of the General Conference would make some provision for a permanent and faithful report to be made of such experiences as you have just passed through at the Colorado camp-meeting and the College View council...if these things were carefully recorded and the names of eye witnesses were attached, if these things were printed from time to time as they are needed, it would do more to strengthen the faith and confidence of our people in what has already been published in special and general Testimonies then the reprinting of these things without any backing or testimony or amen from the men who have been eye witnesses. . . .
"Will you not read this letter before your associates of the General Conference Committee?...Brother Irwin, I believe the General Conference Committee should study this matter and see if these are not things it can do to strengthen Mother's hands." [W. C. White to G. A. Irwin and Officers of the General Conference Committee, Oct. 18, 1905, RG 11, 1905--W]
The reaction of Irwin, however, again revealed a completely different concept of the role of Ellen White. Irwin considered that Ellen White, not the church as a corporate body, should have been the primary mover in the exposure of the J. H. Kellogg apostasy. Note how he blames W. C. White:
"A number of brethren feel that had the message gone straight to the people as it came and when it came from the Lord, that this controversy would not have continued so long, and the apostasy have attained such deep root, and assumed such gigantic proportions. Men have had a desire to stand by the straight message, but they fear that they might get in the way, or be censured for moving too rapidly or radically [against Kellogg]." [Irwin to W. C. White, Oct. 25, 1905, Irwin, G. A., 1904-05, WE]
Note, however, that Ellen White stated that the apostasy should have been dealt with without the need for her intervention--and, when she did intervene the relationship of J. H. Kellogg to health reform within the church was likewise a vital consideration and thus he initially received no publicized condemnatory testimonies, although privately he did receive some.
2. Another corporate plan of W. C. White: Bible schools and Bible Conferences to improve study opportunities for the denomination Bible teachers. Note his suggestion in this regard:
"In the early days of this cause our editors were the chief authorities in all doctrinal questions; but the experiences of the last three years [daily controversy] have led me to believe that the teachers in our schools ought to have such a thorough training that they will be considered the highest authorities, and thus the way may be opened to transfer the important responsibilities of trying out doctrinal controversies from the group of editors and book-writers in our publishing houses to the Bible teachers in our schools or to some select group that may be made up of Bible teachers, evangelists, and editors." [W. C. White to A. G. Daniells, Oct. 6, 1910, W. C. White Correspondence, 1910--Daniells, A. G. WE]
3. One last statement of W. C. White regarding corporate responsibilities and Ellen White. Observe his openness:
"[While there may be some Ellen White] letters which may perplex us and others, it seems to me that the only straightforward and satisfactory way to deal with them is to tell the truth, and let our brethren, with help from God, deal with the difficulties. [Clearly a corporate responsibility] It might be much easier to repudiate a few documents that perplex us, and say they are forgeries, but it is the truth that makes us free, and I do not know of any way in harmony with the law of God than to deal with these matters just as they are. If I am deceived in any of these things, or if I am moving unwisely, I beg of you to give me counsel. . . .
"If my brethren deem it necessary to classify Mother's writings, they must take the responsibility of doing so. I cannot do it, and I think you know why I cannot do it.
"You have been closely associated with Mother and her work, and you know that many times there comes a message to us without any intimation that it is revelation or that it is a direct message from heaven, regarding duty. It comes to us as counsel from God's messenger, and we accept it as such, and we lay beside it such data as we have regarding the proposition under consideration, and then, giving due weight to the counsel and remembering that it comes through one who has clearer views than we regarding the needs of the cause and the possibility of Christian experience, we make our decisions as to what we will endeavor to do. [Notice the breadth of application concept]
"Then it often happens that afterward we are told that the Lord has instructed Mother to speak to us, saying that such and such matters ought to be done, and in the light of this instruction we feel free to give less regard to our own opinions and to give greater regard to the counsel that was formerly given. "And you know that if we had undertaken at any time in the past to draw a line between counsel based upon revelation and definite testimony regarding duty, that we should have been obliged to revise our opinion many times. . . .
"Regarding the effort that should be made to emphasize in the minds of our people the sacredness, the authority of the apostolic gifts, I think you know that I am fully in harmony with this. I have several times said to our brethren who were giving Bible studies on the spirit of prophecy, that I thought that subject could not be perfectly understood without a better understanding of all the other gifts in the church. . . . For a long time I have been praying the Lord to take the burden that for years has rested upon Mother, and place it upon the seventy elders. . . . I wish you to assure our brethren wherever there is occasion to speak of it, that they will have my sympathy and my prayers in their efforts to build up and strengthen the apostolic gift, and all the other gifts in the church." [W. C. White to A. G. Daniells, Dec. 31, 1913, W. C. W. bk. 46, 1912-13--Daniells, A. G.]
"Writing and Sending Out of the Testimonies of the Church"
Throughout her experience, Mrs. White faced the burden of the misuse of her writings. The burden became even more oppressive during the last stages of her life. Notice this report of an interview held with C. C. Crisler in 1912:
"Shortly after I reached the office on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 1912, Sister White came into my room, and told me that she had a strange experience the night before--an experience somewhat similar to that which she passed through during the session of the Pacific Union Conference held at Mountain View in January 1910, when it had seemed as if she were being torn to pieces by the powers of darkness. [Allusion to daily crisis?]
"She said that she had been struggling all night with unseen agencies that were striving to oppress and discourage and thus defeat the purposes of God. The struggle had been a long and wearing one, and at times it had seemed as if the enemy might obtain the mastery; but finally, toward morning, the Lord helped her to gain a decisive victory." [Clarence Crisler, "A Statement Regarding Some Interviews With Mrs. E. G. White," Feb. 28, 1912, DF 107c: Testimonies, Wrong Use of]
She also described this experience to her son, W. C. White as he reports:
"Turning to me, Mother said, 'I had a hard time last night. Nearly all night long I was in controversy with men who were bent on misunderstanding and misapplying my words and writings. It was a long struggle but I got the victory." [W. C. White to Elder Quinn, Feb. 13, 1912, DF 107d, Testimonies--W. C. White Statements]
Mrs. White considered her booklet "The Writing and Sending Out of the Testimonies to the Church" as a response to the misuse of the testimonies.
Central ideas presented in that pamphlet include the following:
1. Corporate responsibilities relative to the Ellen White writings. p. 5: "It requires much wisdom and sound judgment, quickened by the Spirit of God, to know the proper time and manner to present the instruction that has been given. . . . In the early days of this cause, if some of the leading brethren were present when messages from the Lord were given, we would consult with them as to the best manner of bringing the instruction before the people."
2. Dangers of erroneous conclusions by those who misuse Ellen White. pp. 6-8, 25-6.
3. Special insights of W. C. White into the role of Ellen White. pp. 5, 11-2, 14-5, 17-20.
4. Non-exegetical functions of Ellen White. p. 8: "The Lord has said to me: 'Bear the testimonies. Your work is not to settle difficulties; you work is to reprove, and to present the righteousness of Christ.'
p. 11 [based upon 1882 vision]: "The Lord will be your Instructor. You will meet with deceptive influences; they will come in many forms, in pantheism and other forms of infidelity but follow where I shall guide you, and you will be safe. . . .
p. 12: Many messages of counsel and reproof and encouragement have been sent out to individuals, and much of the instruction that I have received for the church has been published in periodicals and books, and circulated in many lands."
p. 20: "The Lord has given a message to meet the emergencies that will arise."
pp. 21-2: "It is difficult for man in his pride and self-sufficiency, to accept the plan that God is working out through the mediation of His Son. It is contrary to the mind of the self-deceived and self-important to receive God's words of warning and reproof. They resist the light. But the promises of mercy and grace and love must come through the lips of My messengers to those who are being led astray. If those reproved will heed and understand and be corrected, if they will change their willful course of sin, God will grant pardon."
Well, what about that Benson question of 1919? If we say Mrs. White didn't solve the issue over the daily, even though she talks about the daily in her writings, or if she didn't provide final exegesis over the issues of the meaning of "Babylon," in Revelation 14 and 18, over the law in Galatians, even though both are in her writings; and then there's the question of the covenants, "within the veil," or the 7th trumpet and if she didn't expose the theological roots of the error of pantheism and didn't resolve the theological questions over the holy flesh movement and if she shouldn't be used to resolve questions of historical detail or chronology, then how much of Ellen White do we have left?
My Response: All of It. We don't have a diminished or partially inspired gift of prophecy in the church. But the gift of prophecy was not intended to resolve our exegetical problems either in theology, or in history [if you please]. The vital part of Ellen White is the non-exegetical part and together--exegetical or corporate responsibility plus non-exegetical equals:
1. Proper interrelationship between law and gospel. Ellen White did confirm that Galatians and covenants are the exegetical roots to understanding the relationship.
2. Suggestion of erroneous concepts of sanctification that led to the pantheism crisis. Let's do that exegesis and find out how relevant that is in our situation today.
3. How to resolve doctrinal controversies that seem to or do involve Ellen White writings.
W. C. White said it this way: "I believe that it is to prompt us to be more thorough in our study that God permits differences of opinion to come, and if we use these differences of opinion to drive us to the study of matter, and if we treat our brethren in Christ's own way, we shall get great good where the enemy hoped to bring in bitterness and division." [To J. S. Washburn, April 28, 1910, DF 201a, Daily: W. C. White letters]
In 1887, Mrs. White said it this way in writing to G. I. Butler and Uriah Smith over the Galatians controversy:
She was writing this, incidentally, to urge that Butler and Smith not assume that Ellen White had earlier made an exegetical pronouncement on the two laws as Butler and Smith had assumed.
Mrs. White continued:
She seems to be saying here, as she did during the crisis over the daily: "This issue needs now to be resolved, but if you are going to maintain the attitude that we already have all the truth and breed disunity by each side battling the other, then we must stop discussion and learn to get along."
This is an important point, because she was willing to stop discussion on the exegetical roots to justification by faith when it became apparent that the spirit of Phariseeism was hindering perception of that vital doctrine. The same was true concerning the contextual background to Daniel 8. If recent discussions have shown anything, they reveal that theologians consider the context to Daniel 8 as having theological relevance. Yet Mrs. White, in the face of disunity bred of Phariseeism during the dispute over the daily urged "silence" concerning the matter of the daily.
This kind of situation, of course, delays the reception of truth and was far from a perfect resolution. Note how Mrs. White continues:
"I believe now that nothing can be done but open discussion. . . . We want Bible evidence for every point we advance. . . . But let none feel that we know all the truth the Bible contains." [Ellen White to G. I. Butler and Uriah Smith, April 5, 1887, in W. C. White to J. S. Washburn, Oct. 27, 1910, RG 17: M. L. Andreasen, "The Daily."]
The issues were similar in 1890 over the covenants debate and again Mrs. White addressed it at the Bible school studying E. J. Waggoner's position on the covenants. Ellen White considered herself a student at this school.
"You must go to the scriptures for yourself," she told the group. "You must search them with humble hearts. If you are just full of prejudice and your own preconceived opinions, and if you entertain the idea that there is nothing for you to know, and that you know all that is worth knowing, you will not get any benefit here. But if you come like children, you want to learn all that there is for you. If the God from heaven has sent anything for me, I want it." [Ellen White at Bible School, Feb. 7, 1890, Documents, Manuscripts, E. G. White materials.]
I would place Mrs. White in the progressive category.