2009 SDA Sabbath School Quarterly
Prophetic Gift
Lesson 8

An Alternative Viewpoint by Dirk Anderson

The 1901 Conference

In Wednesday's lesson Pfandl describes how prior to the 1901 General Conference Session, "Ellen G. White met with the church leaders and urged them to make drastic changes in the running of the church." During the conference the brethren agreed upon the organizational changes and then Pfandl assures us that "the reorganization of the church structure, directed by divine counsel, was accepted unanimously and has stood the test of time."

Oddly enough, the most significant change effected by the 1901 conference was not even mentioned by Pfandl. For some years prior to the 1901 conference, some leading brethren, such as A.T. Jones, had been agitating for change at the head of the General Conference. They felt that too much power was concentrated in a single individual, the General Conference president. They sought to move away from a papal-style leadership to more of a democratic-style system. Therefore, they proposed a new type of organization. Instead of having a "president", there would be a chairman of the board. All major decisions would be made by the board rather than a single individual. Furthermore, the chairman would only serve for one year. This would serve to reduce the likelihood that corporate executives would become corrupt.

Whether Ellen White received divine instruction to back the re-organization, or whether she was convinced by A.T. Jones and others to back the plan is not known. Regardless, she did back the plan for re-organization. The new plan was put forward with the following features:

The new plan was approved unanimously by all 267 delegates, and Ellen White was so pleased with the new plan that she said, "This is not our work. God has brought it about."1

Even though Pfandl told us the reorganization "has stood the test of time," quite the opposite is true. Once in power, the new chairman, A.G. Daniells, worked to undue the new structure and remove the term limits, and establish himself as the sole head of the SDA Church. At the 1903 General Conference session most of the 1901 reforms were undone:

In effect, the 1903 changes undid most of the major reforms instituted in 1901. Some delegates objected to the return to the old way of doing business, including E.J. Waggoner, David Paulson, and P.T. Magan. In their "minority report" they state:
The proposed new Constitution reverses the reformatory steps that were taken, and the principles which were given and adopted as the principles of reorganization, in the General Conferences of 1897 and 1901...2
So, either the 1901 re-organization was God's plan and the SDA Church rejected it (and their prophet's leadership) in 1903; or else, the 1901 plan was an abysmal failure, and Mrs. White's endorsement of it was a mistake on her part. Which is the answer?

Statement of Belief

Friday's lesson tells us, "In 1982, an ad hoc committee of the General Conference prepared a statement on the relationship between the Bible and Ellen G. White." Let us examine this statement in detail:

(1) We believe that Scripture is the divinely revealed Word of God and is inspired by the Holy Spirit.
Analysis: Amen!

(2) We believe that the canon of Scripture is composed only of the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments.
Analysis: Amen!

(3) We believe that Scripture is the foundation of faith and the final authority in all matters of doctrine and practice.
Analysis: Notice that Scripture is said to be the "final" authority, rather than the "only" authority.

(4) We believe that Scripture is the Word of God in human language.
Analysis: Yes.

(5) We believe that Scripture teaches that the gift of prophecy will be manifest in the Christian church after New Testament times.
Analysis: The Bible teaches that God gave various gifts to the Church. Whether or not all of the gifts are manifested all of the time is a matter of debate.

(6) We believe that the ministry and writings of Ellen White were a manifestation of the gift of prophecy.
Analysis: In order for that to be true, she must pass all the Biblical tests of a prophet. The evidence suggests she failed 6 of the 7 Biblical tests of a prophet.

(7) We believe that Ellen White was inspired by the Holy Spirit and that her writings, the product of that inspiration, are applicable and authoritative especially to Seventh-day Adventists.
Analysis: To try and determine whether or not someone was inspired by the Holy Spirit is very subjective. If Ellen White's writings are the "product of inspiration", then the multitude of Christian authors she plagiarized from must have been the ones inspired.

(8) We believe that the purposes of the Ellen White writings include guidance in understanding the teaching of Scripture and application of these teachings, with prophetic urgency, to the spiritual and moral life.
Analysis: This sounds as if the SDA Church needs Ellen White's writings in order to help them to understand the teaching of Scripture and how to apply Bible teachings. This sounds strikingly familiar to the Catholic Church's use of the Church Fathers to understand and interpret the Scriptures.

(9) We believe that the acceptance of the prophetic gift of Ellen White is important to the nurture and unity of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Analysis: In other words, those who do not accept Ellen White are promoting destruction and disunity in the SDA Church.

(10) We believe that Ellen White’s use of literary sources and assistants finds parallels in some of the writings of the Bible.
Analysis: The degree of plagiarism in Ellen White's writings is on a far greater scale than that found in the Bible. In addition, she denied copying from others, whereas we have no evidence Bible writers made such a denial. It is difficult to pinpoint a single significant theological idea that originated with Ellen White.

Denials: (1) We do not believe that the quality or degree of inspiration in the writings of Ellen White is different from that of Scripture.
Analysis: In other words, her writings are just as inspired as those of Bible authors.

(2) We do not believe that the writings of Ellen White are an addition to the canon of Sacred Scripture.
Analysis: Amen!

(3) We do not believe that the writings of Ellen White function as the foundation and final authority of Christian faith as does Scripture.
Analysis: Again we find Scripture referred to as the "final authority". What are the non-final authorities?

(4) We do not believe that the writings of Ellen White may be used as the basis of doctrine.
Analysis: If so, then upon what do Adventists base their doctrine of the Investigative Judgment? This doctrine is foreign to the Bible and rests wholly upon the authority of Ellen White's writings.

(5) We do not believe that the study of the writings of Ellen White may be used to replace the study of Scripture.
Analysis: Hallelujah!

(6) We do not believe that Scripture can be understood only through the writings of Ellen White.
Analysis: Amen!

(7) We do not believe that the writings of Ellen White exhaust the meaning of Scripture.
Analysis: Amen!

(8) We do not believe that the writings of Ellen White are essential for the proclamation of the truths of Scripture to society at large.
Analysis: If they are not essential for the society at large, then are they essential for anyone?

(9) We do not believe that the writings of Ellen White are the product of mere Christian piety.
Analysis: Here is where I would have to disagree. I have seen no evidence that her writings are any more inspired than the those of any other well-meaning Christian author.

(10) We do not believe that Ellen White’s use of literary sources and assistants negates the inspiration of her writings.
Analysis: This would be true only if an admission is made that the sources from which she acquired her writings were themselves inspired. Those words did not auto-magically become "inspired" when Ellen White copied them from their books into her books. If the words in Ellen White's books are indeed inspired, then Adventism should give credit where credit is due: Those same words were inspired as they originally were written on the pages of the books of non-SDA authors.


1. Ellen White, General Conference Bulletin, April 25, 1901.

2. Minority Report signed by Waggoner, Paulson and Magan, General Conference Bulletin, 1903, 146, 147.

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