The words of the Bible, and the Bible alone, should be heard from the pulpit – Ellen G. White, Brainy Quote
Ellen G. White born Ellen Harmon was born and raised in a Christian home. Her father was a Methodist. When her family accepted William Miller teachings regarding the imminent return of the Lord, they were forced out of the Methodist Church. In 1846 Ellen married James White, a fellow Millerite. The couple was instrumental within a small group of early Adventists who formed what is known today as the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Mrs. White is the most translated female non-fiction author in the history of literature, as well as the most translated American non-fiction author of either gender. Her writings covered a broad range of subjects, including religion, social relationships, prophecy, publishing, nutrition, creationism, agriculture, theology, evangelism, Christian lifestyle, education and health. She advocated vegetarianism. She has been instrumental in the establishment of schools and medical centers all over the world, most notably, Andrews University in Michigan and the Loma Linda University and Medical Center in California.
She is purported to be a prophetess by the Adventist Church. She had claimed to receive as many 2,000 visions and dreams from God in public and private meetings throughout her life which were witnessed by Adventist pioneers and the general public. In her first vision, she recalls:
At this time I visited one of our Advent sisters, and in the morning we bowed around the family altar. It was not an exciting occasion, and there were but five of us present, all females. While praying, the power of God came upon me as I never had felt it before, and I was wrapt up in a vision of God’s glory, and seemed to be rising higher and higher from the earth and was shown something of the travels of the Advent people to the Holy City …
In this vision the “Advent people” were traveling a high and dangerous path towards the city of New Jerusalem [heaven]. Their path was lit from behind by “a bright (light) … which an angel told me was the midnight cry.” Some of the travelers grew weary and were encouraged by Jesus; others denied the light, the light behind them went out, and they fell “off the path into the dark and wicked world below.” The vision continued with a portrayal of Christ’s second coming, following which the Advent people entered the New Jerusalem; and ended with her returning to earth feeling lonely, desolate and longing for that “better world.”
Initially, Mrs. White didn’t share her visions with the wider church community for fear that they would not believe her.
Fearing people would not accept her testimony, White did not initially share her visions with the wider Millerite community. However, in a meeting at her parents’ home she received what she regarded as confirmation of her ministry:
While praying, the thick darkness that had enveloped me was scattered, a bright light, like a ball of fire, came towards me, and as it fell upon me, my strength was taken away. I seemed to be in the presence of Jesus and the angels. Again it was repeated, ‘Make known to others what I have revealed to you.’
This motivated Mrs. White to give her testimony in public meetings and in her regular Methodist class meetings in private homes. “I arranged meetings with my young friends, some of whom were considerably older than myself, and a few were married persons. A number of them were vain and thoughtless; my experience sounded to them like an idle tale, and they did not heed my entreaties. But I determined that my efforts should never cease till these dear souls, for whom I had so great an interest, yielded to God. Several entire nights were spent by me in earnest prayer for those whom I had sought out and brought together for the purpose of laboring and praying with them.“
The Bible teaches that one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is prophecy and Adventists believe that this gift is an identifying mark of the remnant church and was manifested in the ministry of Ellen G. White. As the Lord’s messenger, her writings are a continuing and authoritative source of truth which provide for the church comfort, guidance, instruction, and correction. They also make clear that the Bible is the standard by which all teaching and experience must be tested.
Not surprisingly, there are those who question of Mrs. White’s reliability as a prophetess and and the authenticity of her visions. However, the White Estate states that she met all the tests of a true prophet as set forth in the Holy Scriptures. The Adventist Church believe that Mrs. White was appointed by God as a special messenger to draw the world’s attention to the Holy Scriptures and to help to prepare people for Christ’s second advent. The knowledge and counsel she received through these revelations she wrote out to be shared with others. Her special writings are accepted by Seventh-day Adventists as inspired.
Mrs. White was also accused of plagiarism. There was evidence that she and her publisher, the Review & Herald, were guilty of illegal copyright infringement and a lawsuit was filed against them by Conybeare and Howson, a major publisher in the 19th century. The publishing company documented extensive plagiarism by Ellen G. White in her book, Sketches from the Life of Paul, taken from their book, Life and Epistles of the Apostle Paul, published in 1855.
When they were confronted with this evidence, the Seventh Day Adventists immediately stopped publishing Ellen G. White’s book and didn’t re-publish it until the Conybeare and Howson copyright had expired. This wasn’t an isolated incident. The public secular press had accused Ellen G. White of extensive plagiarism, verifying that this was her general practice and concluding that, “Mrs. White is a plagiarist, a literary thief.”
There were concerns that one group of church members overdeified her while another group were picking and choosing from what teachings they follow of hers. I remember a guy at church who had one of her books in his hand. Based on its worn and shabby appearance, it was obvious that he used it a lot and I couldn’t help wondering if his Bible was in the same condition of much use.
The Adventist Church is quick to point out, “The writings of Ellen White are not a substitute for Scripture. They cannot be placed on the same level. The Holy Scriptures stand alone, the unique standard by which her and all other writings must be judged and to which they must be subject” In every Sabbath School lesson and in most sermons, there are always references to her writings. In The Great Controversy, one of her most famous books, Mrs. White noted, “The fact that God has revealed His will to men through His Word, has not rendered needless the continued presence and guiding of the Holy Spirit. On the contrary, the Spirit was promised by our Saviour to open the Word to His servants, to illuminate and apply its teachings” (The Great Controversy, p. vii).
Whether she was truly a prophetess or there is the concern that some Adventists are guilty of putting her on a pedestal, it should be noted that under her influence the Adventist movement was actively abolitionist before the Civil War and during the 1860s. In 1866 she helped to establish the Western Health Reform Institute in Battle Creek; later, as the Battle Creek Sanitarium, it became famous for its work in the field of diet and health food and was the model for many other sanatoriums. In 1874 she helped found Battle Creek College, an Adventist institution of which her husband was named president. In 1891, Mrs. White appealed to church leaders to begin educational and evangelistic work on behalf of the Black race in America’s South. Three years later, one of her sons, James Edson White, built a Mississippi River steamboat and used it for about a decade as a floating mission for Blacks in Mississippi and Tennessee.
According to one evangelical author, “No Christian leader or theologian has exerted as great an influence on a particular denomination as Ellen White has on Adventism.” Additional authors have stated “Ellen G. White has undoubtedly been the most influential Seventh-day Adventist in the history of the church.”
Ellen G. White and her writings continue to have a great influence on the Adventist Movement in the areas of health reform and Christian education.