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THE INTERNATIONAL Prophetic Guidance Workshop held from April 1 l to 15, 1982, was one of the most significant meetings in our history.
Held at Seventh-day Adventist world was in Washington, D.C., the workshop had been first announced in 1978. Its seventy appointees included those within the Seventh-day Adventist Church whose work Involves them most directly with the ministry of Ellen White: the fifteen members of the White Estate Board of Trustees; the eleven White Estate headquarters staff; the chairman and secretary of the General Conference Spirit of Prophecy Committee; the seven directors of Ellen G. White/SDA Research Centres, Spirit of Prophecy coordinators from eight overseas divisions; college/university religion teachers, editors, and others. Seventeen of the delegates came from outside North America.
Its context made it impossible for this workshop to be just a business-as-usual affair. Since a similar but smaller session four years ago, certain significant historical, literary and theological studies of the seventies have become the focus of discussion: Ellen White's use of both S.D.A. and non-S.D.A. authors; the role of her literary assistants in editing and revision; the historical and sociological context of her writings; the variety of ways she used Scripture; the development of her thought from 1844-1915. The workshop generated some 750 pages of "hand-outs" on thirty topics, including the issues most often addressed in present discussions of Ellen White and her ministry.
A series of papers dwelt on aspects of general concern. Among them
Another important segment of the discussions focused on Ellen White's writings with relation to history and science. Papers on "The Great Controversy" statements regarding the Waldenses and the Albigenses, and topics such as geology, earth sciences and health reform were considered.
Much stimulating attention was given to matters highly important within Adventist history. Significant resource collections were made available, including: "The 'Shut Door' Documents," fifty-eight pages, and "The Fannie Bolton Story: A Collection of Source Documents," 128 pages. Some short papers responded to frequently asked questions relating to the 1907 interview with Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, and the alleged "stolen illustrations" in "The Great Controversy." Correspondence preserved from as far back as 1885-1887 makes evident that the illustrations were purchased from their owners "in an honest and businesslike manner."
One of the most important areas of study focused on Ellen G. White's use of the writings of other authors. The White Estate has reconstructed carefully the titles of some of the books she used in "A Bibliography of Ellen G. White's Private and Office Libraries," a fifty-page document. A forty-six-page pamphlet, "E. G. White's Literary Work: An Update," gives a popular introduction to this subject as it is now understood. A comprehensive example of Ellen White's approach was examined in an eighty-five-page document, "Henry Melvill and Ellen G. White: A Study in Literary and Theological Relationships."
A major session of the workshop dealt with the considerably enlarged understandings of how the Ellen G. White writings were prepared for printing. In response to the White Estate's request for counsel, the workshop participants voted that a paper be prepared on this important topic.
The Role of the General Conference Archives
In 1973 the General Conference established its Office of Archives and Statistics "as a result of a long-felt need in the Secretariat and much urging over the years by Arthur White," according to an April 1982 report by Dr. F. Donald Yost, its director. The staff is constantly at work processing materials, that is, "describing them, arranging them and making them fully available for scholarly as well as internal General Conference use." Dr. Yost estimates: "The General Conference Archives now contains in its Records Centre and its Archives about 3.000 linear feet of unpublished materials, about 400 shelf feet of S.D.A. English periodicals and special publications of the General Conference such as church manual and departmental manuals, and 900 rolls of microfilm."
No wonder that the unpacking of cartons and the unrolling of packages brings to light significant materials like the transcripts of the 1919 Bible Conference!
During the decade of the seventies these new research facilities assisted the General Conference to produce a new textbook for college-level classes in our church's heritage. Hence in 1979 "Light Bearers to the Remnant" came to us from Pacific Press.
Those of us who read the Adventist Review of July 9, 1981, may remember that our General Conference president, Pastor N. C. Wilson, there outlined some of the topics agreed upon for study by the General Conference Biblical Research Institute and the White Estate:
"Dr. Lesher [the chairman] is working with a number of Adventist scholars who will be writing a series of research papers on such topics as: The Office of Prophet in the Old Testament; The Office of Prophet in the New Testament; E. G. White In Context of American Church History; E. G. White's Sociological Context; Science and Religion in the E. G. White Writings; E. G. White's Use of Scripture; Authority of E. G. White; Theology of E. G. White; E. G. White's Experience as a Prophet; Development of Thought in E. G. White; Is It Ethical for a Prophet to Borrow Ideas and Claim Divine Origin?; and A Proper Hermeneutic for Use of E. G. White."
Already a great deal of this research has been done, and Dr. Richard Lesher expects most of the papers under preparation will be in hand by the end of 1982.
One of the most extensive updates ever experienced by Australasia on Ellen White and her ministry was in the itinerary of Dr. Robert Olson and Pastor Ron Graybill of the White Estate from August 31 to October 4, 1981. Much recently researched material was presented at that time. Some may not have yet taken time to listen to the tapes and read the available information. But those who have done so realise the value of this new information.
The stated purpose of the workshop was "to discuss current issues and other matters relating to the writings of Ellen G. White." This was achieved. But there was more--a renewed commitment was affirmed by all the workshop participants. This meeting may well be seen as a significant milestone for us all as faith seeks a fuller understanding of Ellen White's prophetic ministry. As we engage in this process we can be cheered and instructed by the statement voted at the conclusion of the workshop:
"We affirm our gratitude for the way in which God has presented to the world, through a variety of human instrumentalities, His all-sufficient and authoritative revelation, the Holy Scriptures, and has protected the transmission of this revelation to ensure its trustworthiness.
"We also reaffirm the continuing operation of His Spirit through the prophetic gift as manifested in Ellen G. White's ministry.
"The workshop helped us to understand better how God presented His truth to the prophets and broadened our insights into the way in which the prophets communicated this truth. We recognise in this divine-human process that the humanness of all prophets does not lessen their God-given authority.
"We further reaffirm our confidence in the integrity of Ellen G. White, in the authority of her ministry as it has been experienced by the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and in its continuing validity."
The workshop showed we all have much to learn both from the Word and
our heritage. Hence it provides us with a new opportunity to draw
together in the quest for a fuller understanding of truth and greater
efficiency in witnessing to a needy world.
At the time of wring, Arthur Patrick was director, Ellen G. White /SDA Research Center. Arthur Duffy was Ministerial and Stewardship Secretary, Australian Division. Published in the Australasian Record, June 28, 1982 p.13.
[Note: This article is referenced by Arthur Patrick in his paper, " The Inspired and Inspiring Ellen White, Part 1: 1982 in Historical Perspective", in Footnote #20. http://www.sdanet.org/atissue/white/patrick/egw-inspired.htm ]