“Circumstances alter cases.”
The phrase was often used by Ellen White. A positive example can be found in Testimonies for the Church, Volume Six (339:2), “While we present methods of work we cannot lay out an undeviating line in which everyone shall move, for circumstances alter cases. God will impress those whose hearts are open to truth and who are longing for guidance.” In the second volume of Manuscript Releases (100.2) is the following: “Circumstances alter cases. I would not advise that anyone should make a practice of gathering up tithe money. But for years there have now and then been persons who have lost confidence in the appropriation of the tithe, who have placed their tithe in my hands, and said that if I did not take it they would themselves appropriate it to the families of the most needy ministers they could find. I have taken the money, given a receipt for it, and told them how it was appropriated.” She also cautions people not to use the phrase as an excuse to ignore God’s Word and follow their own selfish motives and purposes (RH, September 14, 1905).
I did a little research and learned that Ellen White did not make the phrase up, it is actually an old English proverb, probably going back to the Seventeenth Century. I looked it up in the Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable and found the following definition: “A general principle may be modified in light of particular circumstances.” According to the Dictionary of Idiomatic English Phrases: “It is necessary to modify one’s conduct by the particular circumstances or conditions of each case.”
As time permits I plan to explore some significant instances in which the Bible appeared perfectly clear on a topic, but circumstances caused people to see things in the Bible that they had missed before. I think there are powerful implications in these Scriptures for the way we should handle issues like the ordination of women. This July delegates from around the world will attend the quinquennial session of the General Conference in San Antonio, Texas. A major question on the floor will be whether or not world divisions of the church can differ in the way they handle policies like ordination. My mission in this series of blogs will be to seek an answer to the question, “Is there any word from the Lord?” on this issue? I do not expect all to agree on what the Bible says about ordination, but there IS something in the Bible on this topic that we can all agree on. Stay tuned. . .