Crucial Question 27: What personal costs are borne by many Seventh-day Adventists as a result of the teachings of Ellen White?
The Bible teaches that true and false prophets can be known by their fruit (Matt. 7:15-20). Adventists point to many highly successful Adventist institutions the fruits of Ellen White’s ministry. These “fruit” include the SDA worldwide educational system, health system, and publishing work. They argue that so much good has been done in the world as a result of Ellen White’s teaching; therefore, the fruits of her prophetic ministry must be positive. But what about the human impact of Adventism? How have the teachings of Ellen White affected the spiritual hope of countless individual Adventists? Could it be that there is a deep spiritual pain and uncertainty in the hearts of many Adventists as a result of her teachings? Are some individuals deeply harmed by adherence to her teachings? Could this be her real legacy?
What was the impact of Ellen White’s testimonies upon all the Adventists who had their alleged spiritual failures revealed in church?
What about the faithful Adventist missionaries in Zimbabwe who refused quinine because EGW had condemned its use? Several died of malaria as a result (Knight, Reading Ellen White, pp. 98-99).
What about Mrs. Joseph Bates, wife of one of the founders of Adventism? She wrote, “I have felt more sensibly [than] ever before, the need of entire consecration to God, and realize, in some degree, how pure and holy we must be to stand before him without a Mediator. O, how I tremble and weep before him, when I think what a poor unworthy creature I am” (qtd. in Knight, Joseph Bates, p. 197).
What about all the sufferers from a variety of maladies burdened with guilt for supposedly bringing their infirmities upon themselves through what was euphemistically called “secret sin,” “self-abuse,” or “solitary vice,” and who were denied the consolation of prayer as a result?
What about the long-time Adventist who wrote, “For years I would see a meeting on TV, maybe Billy Graham, and envy the people thronging there… But then I would remember Ellen White. We were never to say ‘I am saved,’ and I would sink back in my misery… I'm 79 now, and I hope for a few months or years of fellowship with Jesus my Savior, no longer separated by a gloomy cloud of salvation by works” (qtd. in Douglass, Should We Ever Say, “I Am Saved”?, p. 9).
Finally, what about all the Adventist young people who lost hope of salvation because of the strict, legalistic testimonies aimed at them? Is this Ellen White’s real fruit?
From the Pen of Ellen White:
“Sabbath my husband spoke in the forenoon, and I followed for two hours before taking food. The meeting was then closed for a few moments, and I took a little food, and afterward spoke in a social meeting for one hour, bearing pointed testimonies for several present. These testimonies were generally received with feelings of humility and gratitude. I cannot, however, say that all were so received” (2T 14).
“When those who had been greatly in fault were reproved by most pointed testimonies, read to them publicly, they received them, and confessed with tears. But some of those in the church, who claimed to be the fast friends of the cause and the Testimonies, could hardly think it possible that they had been as wrong as the testimonies declared them to be. When told that they were self-caring, shut up to themselves and families; that they had failed to care for others, had been exclusive, and had left precious souls to perish; that they were in danger of being overbearing and self-righteous, they were brought into a state of great agitation and trial” (2T 20).
“Mercury, calomel, and quinine have brought their amount of wretchedness, which the day of God alone will fully reveal” (4SG 140).
“Those who are living upon the earth when the intercession of Christ shall cease in the sanctuary above are to stand in the sight of a holy God without a mediator. Their robes must be spotless, their characters must be purified from sin by the blood of sprinkling. Through the grace of God and their own diligent effort they must be conquerors in the battle with evil” (GC 425).
“The state of our world was presented before me, and my attention was especially called to the youth of our time. Everywhere I looked, I saw imbecility, dwarfed forms, crippled limbs, misshapen heads, and deformity of every description. Sins and crimes, and the violation of nature's laws, were shown me as the causes of this accumulation of human woe and suffering. . . . Corrupt habits are wasting their energies, and bringing upon them loathsome and complicated diseases. . . . Health, reason, and life, were sacrificed to depraved lusts” (Appeal to Mothers, pp. 17-18).
“Females possess less vital force than the other sex . . . . The results of self-abuse in them is seen in various diseases, such as catarrh, dropsy, headache, loss of memory and sight, great weakness in the back and loins, affections of the spine, the head often decays inwardly. Cancerous humor, which would lay dormant in the system their life-time, is inflamed, and commences its eating, destructive work. The mind is often utterly ruined, and insanity takes place” (Appeal to Mothers, p. 27).
“My husband and I once attended a meeting where our sympathies were enlisted for a brother who was a great sufferer with the phthisic. He was pale and emaciated. He requested the prayers of the people of God. He said that his family were sick and that he had lost a child. He spoke with feeling of his bereavement. He said that he had been waiting for some time to see Brother and Sister White. He had believed that if they would pray for him he would be healed. . . .
“I had resolved not to engage in prayer for anyone unless the Spirit of the Lord should dictate in the matter. I had been shown that there was so much iniquity abounding, even among professed Sabbathkeepers, that I did not wish to unite in prayer for those of whose history I had no knowledge. I stated my reason. . . .
“That night we bowed in prayer and presented his case before the Lord. . . . In a dream the case of that man was clearly presented. His course from his childhood up was shown, and that if we should pray the Lord would not hear us; for he regarded iniquity in his heart. The next morning the man came for us to pray for him. We took him aside and told him we were sorry to be compelled to refuse his request. I related my dream, which he acknowledged was true. He had practiced self-abuse from his boyhood up . . . .” (2T 349-50).
“Those who accept the Saviour, however sincere their conversion, should never be taught to say or to feel that they are saved” (COL 155).
“If we ever enter the kingdom of God, we must enter with perfect characters, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing” (MYP 105).
“We shall individually be held responsible for doing one jot less than we have ability to do. The Lord measures with exactness every possibility for service. The unused capabilities are as much brought into account as are those that are improved. For all that we might become through the right use of our talents God holds us responsible. We shall be judged according to what we ought to have done, but did not accomplish because we did not use our powers to glorify God” (MYP 309).
“Puritan plainness and simplicity should mark the dwellings and apparel of all who believe the solemn truths for this time.” (MYP 315).
“Young Sabbath-keepers who have yielded to the influence of the world, will have to be tested and proved.… They have not been willing to give up the world, but have united with the world in attending picnics and other gatherings for pleasure, flattering themselves that they were engaging in innocent amusement. Yet it is just such indulgences that separate them from God, and make them children of the world” (MYP 375-76).
“The frivolity of the young is not pleasing to God. Their sports and games open the door to a flood of temptations” (MYP 382).
“Young men and young women should not think that their sports, their evening parties and musical entertainments, as usually conducted, are acceptable to Christ” (MYP 391).
“Every transgression brings the soul into condemnation, and provokes the divine displeasure” (429).
Ellen White’s son W. C. White wrote, “One time while we were in Australia, a brother who had been acting as a missionary in the islands, told mother of the sickness and death of his first-born son. . . . When he met Sister White, he asked her this question: ‘Would I have sinned to give the boy quinine when I knew of no other way to check malaria and when the prospect was that he would die without it?’ In reply she said, ‘No, we are expected to do the best we can’” (2SM 282n).
Growing up as an Adventist, respected the writings of Ellen White as inspired by God. Having a “thus-saith-Mrs. White” was equivalent to a “thus-saith-the-Lord.” Ellen White’s word settled almost any discussion. But what happened when the so-called prophetic “word” was incorrect? Worse, what happened when the teaching was dangerously incorrect or spiritually abusive? The human cost—often unseen—was horrific in terms of guilt feelings, spiritual despair, and sometimes physical and mental health. Yes, Ellen White built a church with a global institutional presence. But it is in the individual pain that the real fruit of Ellen White’s ministry is revealed.
- Does the principle of Matthew 18:15-17 apply to supposed prophetic messages?
- Is it right to blame faithful followers of Ellen White for misunderstanding statements that seem quite clear?
- Is it biblical to teach that believers will have to live perfectly without the mediation of Christ on our behalf?
- What is the human spiritual cost of erroneous teachings?
“But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matt. 18:6).
“Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits” (Matt. 7:15-16).
“Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth” (I Tim. 4:1-3).
“But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction” (II Pe. 2:1).
“What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found? For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin” (Rom. 4:1-8).
“Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:29-30).
For Further Study:
- Jemison, T. Housel. A Prophet Among You. Pacific Press, 1955. pp. 267-70.
Go back to Crucial Question #26: Substitute or Second Chance?