In this lesson we are finally getting to the real issue with Ellen White, which is, did she pass the Biblical tests of a prophet? Many people, both within and outside of the SDA Church are willing to accept Mrs. White as a good lady, an inspiring author, a decent Christian, a church leader, or a persuasive temperance spokesperson. The pivotal question is: Was she really a prophet?
As the first evidence of Ellen White's prophethood, Pfandl points again to the physical phenomena associated with some of her early visions:
Often her visions were given while she was in the presence of others, who observed certain physical phenomena—she did not breathe, she had supernatural strength (no one could move her limbs), and she was unconscious of her surroundings. Adventists and non-Adventists have testified to the supernatural character of her visions. At the General Conference session in 1893, J. N. Loughborough said: “I have seen Sister White in vision about fifty times. . . . She has been examined while in vision by skillful physicians, and we have testimonials from them which declare that the phenomena of her visions are beyond their comprehension.” —General Conference Daily Bulletin, January 29, 1893.In reading this, one could be led to believe that all those who witnessed her visions were impressed by their supernatural and incomprehensible character. Unfortunately, once again, Pfandl is only telling one side of the story. There are many eyewitness accounts that speak otherwise. Consider this one, from a "beloved brother", published by none other than James White:
I think that what she and you regard as visions from the Lord, are only religious reveries, in which her imagination runs without control upon themes in which she is most deeply interested. While so absorbed in these reveries, she is lost to every thing around her.1Or how about Joseph Bates' initial feelings about the visions:
...for a long time [I was] unwilling to believe that it was any thing more than what was produced by a protracted debilitated state of her body.2And Adventist minister Isaac Wellcome:
These visions were but the echoes of Elder [Joseph] Turner and others' preaching, and we regard them as the product of the overexcited imagination of her mind, and not as facts.3And a pastor's wife, Lucinda Burdick:
...after a little while, her visions began to conflict one with the other. It was ascertained by myself and others who saw her in vision, that she could throw herself into vision when she chose (this she confessed), but that James White could control them, and bring her out when he pleased.4Even Ellen White admitted that many eyewitnesses doubted her visions:
If I had a vision in meeting, many would say that it was excitement and that someone mesmerized me.5These quotes from eyewitnesses illustrate that there was considerable debate among Adventists as to whether her visions were actually supernatural or not. Regardless, physical manifestations are not a Biblical test of a prophet. Many a magician has been able to conjure up physical manifestations of one type or another.
After discussing physical manifestations, Pfandl asks several questions, apparently in an effort to lead us to believe in Ellen White's prophethood based upon the quality of her writings:
What’s been your experience with Ellen White’s writings? In what ways have they impacted your spiritual life? Put aside any preconceived notions that you might have about her published works, and just read some of them. What can they tell you about the author?The fact is, the Ellen White books that people find most inspiring are the ones put together by others. Fannie Bolton, Mrs. White's assistant, wrote the manuscript for Steps to Christ and Mrs. White took the manuscript and published it under her own name. As we discussed in the prior lesson, Marian Davis, a professional writer, was hired by Mrs. White, and put together the book Desire of Ages, using the writings of at least 23 other authors, including works of fiction.
Even the White Estate admits that most of the Great Controversy was taken from other authors. There are very few writings of Ellen White's that could actually be considered original:
Ronald Graybill, Associate Director, Ellen G. White Estate:Do her writings prove she was inspired? What if you were given permission to copy any material you wanted from the top Christian authors in the world and put it into a book? And what if you had a staff of competent editors and writers to assist you in this effort? Do you think you could put together an inspiring book? Of course you could! In this regard, Mrs. White's inspiring books do not prove her to be any more of a prophet than you are!These borrowings occured not only in the historical sections of The Great Controversy but also in its prophetic sections. They appear throughout the Conflict of the Ages and in the Testimonies for the Church as well as other Ellen White books. They occur in letters and specific testimonies to individuals. They appear in descriptions of the content of specific visions given to Mrs. White. It would be unwise at this point to assert that there is any particular book written by Mrs. White or any type of writing from her pen in which literary borrowing will not be found.6Warren Johns, Ellen G. White Estate:Evidence for literary borrowing can be substantiated in virtually all nine volumes of the (1) Testimonies for the Church, in her (2) Review and Herald and Signs of the Times articles, and in (3) all of the books published during her lifetime. The only exception may be Early Writings. At this time I am not aware of any significant literary borrowing in that work, but it would not be surprising if it should come to light.7
In Monday's lesson we come to the first real test of a prophet. Pfandl explains that a prophet's writings must harmonize with those of other inspired authors, and to Mrs. White's credit, the majority of her writings are in harmony with Biblical principals. However, there are a significant number of instances where she contradicts Scripture. These contradictions were pointed out in an earlier lesson, and if you did not get a chance to review those, please go to lesson #3 and follow the links to explore the many instances where Mrs. White's writings contradict the Bible. After examining all the contradictions one might legitimately question whether Mrs. White was indeed in complete harmony with Scripture and whether she indeed passed this test of a prophet.
In Tuesday's lesson we are introduced to a second test of a prophet, namely that if they make any prediction, it must be fulfilled. Interestingly enough, instead of pointing out any of Mrs. White's fulfilled prophecies, Pfandl spends the entire section trying to explain away a failed prediction made by Ellen White in 1856. In that infamous prophecy, Mrs. White said an angel told her that some of those attending the conference she was speaking at would be "alive" and "translated at the coming of Jesus."8
After the prediction failed, and all those attending the conference passed away, SDA corporate executives decided that this was a "conditional prophecy", much like the one given to Jonah. However, unlike Jonah, who was given a message calling for repentence, thus implying a condition which the Ninevites apparently understood (because they forthwith repented in sackcloth and ashes), Ellen White's message had no explicit or implicit conditions mentioned. In fact, it only became "conditional" after the passing away of all those present.
This means that God, who knows everything, who has known for a thousand billion years that Jesus was not returning to earth in the 1800s, nor even the 1900s, still sent His angel to tell Ellen White a bald-faced lie--that Jesus would return within the lifespan of those attending the conference--even though He knew full well it was an absolute falsehood. God did not say, "I'm returning in 1880 IF you convert the whole world to Adventism." God did not say, "I'm returning IF you Adventists give enough tithe money and work really hard." No. There are no conditions whatsoever, either explicit or implied, in Ellen White's statement.
Years later, when it became obvious she made a mistake, instead of placing the blame upon herself, as rightly it should have been placed, she pointed her finger back at the Adventist people and blamed them for her failed prediction, saying it was their fault, their failure that Jesus did not come. (For a more in-depth study on Mrs. White's failed predictions about Christ's return, click here).
In Wednesday's lesson Pfandl describes a "test" which Ellen White passed, namely that she believed that Jesus Christ came to this earth in the flesh. The fact of the matter is, if this is indeed a "test" of a prophet, it is a test of minor importance for those of us living today. This test had more relevance in the first centuries when the Gnostic heresay was more prominent. The Gnostics taught that Christ did not actually come in human flesh. Today, Gnostic teachings are virtually unheard of, and nearly all Christians believe Jesus came in the flesh.
The truth is that nearly every prophet of the last Millennium has professed that Jesus came in the flesh. Evan Islam's prophet, Mohammed, taught that Jesus came in the flesh. Mormon leader Joseph Smith and Christian Science's Mary Eddy Baker taught Jesus came in the flesh. Even some New-Age gurus believe Jesus came in the flesh. Virtually every other "Christian" prophet, from David Koresh to Emanuel Swedenborg believed Jesus came in the flesh. Therefore, this "test", while important in the first century, is not as meaningful in judging today's modern prophets.
Thurday's lesson discusses the fruit of Ellen White's life. There is a candid admission that prophets have "character flaws" and it should be made clear that having a character flaw does not preclude one from being a prophet. Character flaws are not part of the Biblical tests of a prophet. Obviously, one would question the prophethood of any prophet living in open sin and rebellion to God's Word, but Mrs. White made an effort, at least in public, to uphold a high standard of Christian character.
Discussing a prophet's fruits is perhaps the most subjective of the Biblical tests. One person may perceive a fruit to be "good" while another may not. One person may love sour apples, while another prefers sweet apples. If they both pick an apple from the same tree, one may love it while the other may hate it. There is a great controversy regarding the fruits of Mrs. White's ministry.
Good Fruits: On the positive side, many people have claimed to have been blessed by the books published under the name of Ellen White. There are many beautiful and inspiring statements in her writings (although some of those inspiring statements were actually written by other authors). Many people, have found books such as Desire of Ages to be inspiring. Some Adventists claim to have been saved by reading her writings. Some Adventists claim that Ellen White's testimonies helped them overcome sin, lead a better life, improve their health, or become a better person. Millions of Ellen White's books have been published and distributed throughout the world. There can be no doubt that Ellen White's writings have touched untold thousands of lives in a positive way. These are good fruits and they are to be applauded.
Mixed Fruits: Mrs. White was a guiding force for the Seventh-day Adventist Church during its formative years. Opponents of Ellen White point to the fact that Ellen White led the church astray on several key doctrines. In her early years she put her prophetic stamp of approval on some very questionable doctrines, such as the Investigative Judgment and the Shut Door. Proponents of Ellen White point out that she introduced health reform to the church which has apparently benefited some church members, although there is not complete consensus on this point. Mrs. White helped guide the church away from an Aryan view of Christ toward a more orthodox, Trinitarian view of the God head. When A.T. Jones and E.J. Waggoner began preaching the "1888 message" of righteousness by faith, Mrs. White, to her credit, was fully behind the proclamation of the message.
Bad Fruits: There are a number of statements, particularly in the Testimonies, where Mrs. White reveals a harsh, critical, legalistic, judgmental nature. This is especially true of her opponents, whom she frequently characterized as being under the influence of satanic agencies. Unfortunately, some Adventists have claimed that they acquired the same harsh, critical, judgmental and legalistic spirit after reading her writings. Some say her writings have held the church back from advancing into new truth. They say her writings have locked the church into prophetic interpretations that no longer make sense in today's world. Some comment that her multitude of rules and regulations take much of the fun and enjoyment out of life, turning it into a legalistic tedium. Some say her emphasis on character perfection results in church members feeling inadequate and burdened with a load of guilt.
There is no doubt that Mrs. White's ministry has produced some good fruit. Not even the fiercest critic can deny this. There is also little doubt her ministry has produced some bad fruit. Not even the most loyal follower can deny it. Some say that the good outweighs the bad. Others say there is more bad than good. In all fairness to Ellen White, I cannot say she failed this test. However, because of the negative fruits of her ministry noted above, I would hesitate to say she completely passed this test. This one is best left for the reader to decide. Each person will have to use their God-given judgment and their own personal experience as guides to decide for themselves whether or not Mrs. White's fruits have been good or bad.
1. James White, A Word to the Little Flock, p. 22.
3. Isaac Wellcome, History of the Second Advent Message (Yarmouth, Maine: Advent Christian Publication Society, 1874); Jacob Brinkerhoff, The Seventh-day Adventists and Mrs. White's Visions (Marion, Iowa: Advent and Sabbath Advocate, 1884, 4-6.)
4. Lucinda Burdick quoted in Miles Grant, An Examination of Mrs. Ellen White's Visions, Boston: Published by the Advent Christian Publication Society, 1877).
5. Ellen White, Early Writings, p. 21.
6. Dr. Ronald Graybill, "Ellen G. White's Work - An Update", taken from an edited and annotated transcript of a tape recording of presentations made in the morning worship services at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Nov. 15-19, 1981. Emphasis supplied.
7. Warren Johns, Ellen G. White Estate, Ellen G. White, Literary Dependence, and Science, p. 2.
8. Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 1, pp. 131, 132.