Sunday Laws and Bible Prophecy (13): The World of Ellen White

The world that Ellen White experienced in the 1880s was soon to change dramatically. Proestantism remained a major, if not dominant, force in American politics for a number of decades. But after the failure of national Sunday legislation in the period of 1888-1890, Catholicism retreated from being a major player in the American political scene until Vatican II and the rise of John F. Kennedy in the late 1950s. And while spiritualism has remained at the fringes of American consciousness, its role in the public square rapidly diminished after 1890. With Ellen White’s death, a new threat to the American way of life became increasingly powerful, the rise of secularism/liberalism. It offered a direct threat to the “Protestant government” of the United States that was largely taken for granted when Great Controversy was first written. Protestantism fought back during the Liberalism/Fundamental controversy, but the Scopes trial in the 1920s and the collapse of Prohibition in the early 1930s signaled the death knell of Protestant dominance in American politics. The three main threats to the American way of life in the 1880s were now supplanted by a much greater threat, that the Christian values upon which America was founded would be totally set aside in favor of a pluralistic, secular order.

Another major feature of Ellen White’s world was colonialism. Virtually the entire world was either ruled by nominally Christian powers like England, France, Spain and Germany, or deeply influenced by the economic and political power these European nations wielded. The concept of an international Sunday law was very conceivable in the colonial era. But the colonial era began to unravel in the wake of World War II, and European dominance of Africa and Asia had almost totally evaporated by the early 1960s. The world today is a very different world than the world of Ellen White in the late Nineteenth Century. And that is a serious problem for anyone who wishes to project the details of her world into the Twenty-First Century. God meets people where they are. It is reasonable to expect that a prophetic voice arising today would say at least some things that would surprise us.

The scenario Ellen White projects in Great Controversy is deeply embedded in the very specific politics and issues of the 1880s and a little after. It addresses the very things the nation at large was discussing and includes all the major political players of the time. It is not the story of some far future for the United States of America, that story is a natural extension of Ellen White’s time and place. I remind you of her own statements in that regard. What she wrote about in GC concerned “movements now in progress” (GC 573). “In the events now taking place is seen a rapid advance toward the fulfillment of the prediction. . . .” (GC 579). What she was describing was a “soon-coming conflict” (GC 592). In fact, “The decree. . . . has already gone forth” (7 SDABC 976). And it would be enforced by “a Protestant government” (RH, December 18, 1888). The world has changed massively in the last 125 years. Like the writers of the New Testament, Ellen White did not perceive the long period of time that would come after her. In fact, there is very little in her writings that directly describes the world in which we live.

Like the biblical prophets, when Ellen White describes the future it is in the language, time, place, and circumstances of the time in which she wrote. This is illustrated by the fact that language about a national Sunday law in Congress only appears in the immediate context of a bill in the Senate to establish a national Sunday law. Before that she speaks in very general terms about Sunday legislation, language appropriate to a time in which there were many local Sunday laws, but no push for a national one. As noted earlier, there were seven editions of the Great Controversy vision and she updated each edition to reflect the changes in the world current in that time. This is exactly the pattern that you find when you look at the fulfilled prophecies of the Bible.

You will look in vain for any clear description in Ellen White’s writings of the world in which we live. There has been more change in the last hundred years than in the previous 6000, but you wouldn’t detect that in any detail in her writings. Yet you won’t find any explicit descriptions of nuclear war or nuclear power. There is no mention of computers, the internet, or cell phones. There is no mention of space travel by human means. There is no description of Communism, the two world wars, or Islamic terrorism. There is no specific description of an America that is becoming increasingly secular or post-modern. This is exactly what you would expect on the basis of fulfilled prophecy in the Bible. Prophecy was not given to satisfy our curiosity about the future. It was given to teach us how to live today. When we use prophecy for other purposes, things inevitably go wrong.

12 thoughts on “Sunday Laws and Bible Prophecy (13): The World of Ellen White

  1. Eileen

    In my ignorance, if what she says is not applicable, what is the point? Moving to Revelation 13, image to the first beast, how can it be recognised? Surely everything from here on in is going to be subjective?

    1. Mark B

      As the elections get closer and the political Left and Right collide – Socialism has been exposed as an underlying ideology rearing its ugly head and actually getting a foothold in our culture – especially with the younger demographic. Thus, it is not such a stretch of the imagination that a day of rest for the good of humanity, family and the environment be set before the citizens as a humanitarian measure – after all, a day of rest would be seen as benign compared to such a radical deviation from American principles as Socialism. This day of rest would not be legally prohibited as long as it is free of a religious character. So, a “Sunday Law” for secular rest purposes is not off the table and would be even logical to many – Catholics and Sunday keeping Christians would welcome it and promote it. Secular minded citizens would most likely be in favor of it, as it would provide a day off from work.

      Additionally, persecution on religious grounds is not the exception in history, it is unfortunately a very common occurrence historically and globally. It would be somewhat naïve to assume that such a problem could not arise here domestically.

      Mr Paulien, in his treatise “Revisiting the Sabbath in the Book of Revelation” states that “the issue in the final crisis of earth’s history is clearly worship” (page 182). Thus, Ellen Whites statements on a Sunday Law are not unimaginable, as many Bible scholars acknowledge we are living in the “Time of the end”.

      To present E Whites Sunday Law statements as “conditional” or strictly relevant for her time period weakens confidence in her writings and does a disservice to the reader when inspiration is clear on this subject.

      Additionally, referring to the statement ” Yet you won’t find any explicit descriptions of nuclear war or nuclear power.” – this is irrelevant – prophecy is not to focus our attention on such things – but, it is to focus our attention on religious issues that affect God’s people. This principle also applies to why there are only 4 great empires presented in Daniel 2 – when clearly there were more than 4. Such significant and influential Empires such as Ancient China.

      Below is an example of the kind of political maneuverings that most likely would be used to introduce a Sunday Law –

      “In a bid to spur economic growth, outgoing Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti backed a new law that allows shops to stay open on the Sabbath.

      But Sunday traditions are strong in the European nation, and the change provoked strong resistance from religious and secular groups.

      The issue extends beyond Italy. In Brussels, dozens of religious groups—including the Catholic Church—unions and business associations from 27 countries have formed the ‘European Sunday Alliance’ to lobby the European Union to keep Sunday as a continent-wide day of rest, at least in principle.

      Johanna Touzel, the alliance’s spokeswoman, said that setting Sunday aside is not necessarily a religious issue, and not discriminatory towards Jews and Muslims. ‘We need one day when everyone can rest—this is the origin of Shabbat. And in fact, even Muslim organizations support us.

      For the Catholic Church, keeping Sundays free from shopping and work concerns is of larger consequence than the economy. ”

      Read the entire article, Vatican Works to Stop Sunday Shopping in Italy

      Be blessed

      1. Jon Paulien Post author

        Mark, I like your approach above on the whole. Just one concern. I am not clear on your idea that applying conditionality Ellen White is somehow a disservice to readers “When inspiration is clear on this subject.” Isn’t inspiration clear on conditionality as well? Jer 18:7-10 and LDE 38.

    2. Jon Paulien Post author

      I understand the fear. How do you think the Pharisees felt when He told them that their “obvious” reading of Scripture was wrong? Things are not just subjective, there are many principles and aspects of prophecy that continue to guide us. We need read rightly, however, and that calls for course corrections every so often, not because God is unreliable, but to keep us on track. If the purpose of prophecy was certainty about the future, we are in big trouble. But that is not the purpose of prophecy. We are safe with what God has chosen to reveal.

  2. Mark Swaisgood

    Thank you for the reminder about the importance of context, including historical context, not just literary context. I appreciate your ministry to God’s Church.

  3. Busani

    To me all the noises I am hearing are pointing towards the unity of Church and State as well as Sunday Law as predicted by Ellen White. COVID-19 is really hastening the fulfillment of prophecy. I’m sorry Jon but I totally disagree with your analysis. Should we go by your analysis, we would then totally discard the Bible as it is actually older than Ellen White’s writing. Was it for that old world or is it for all time?

    1. Jon Paulien Post author

      Pretty strong statements. My concern on the subject is limited to the specific issue of a national Sunday law in Congress, which Ellen White rarely mentions and only in relation to that very thing being a live issue around 1888. I don’t think we disagree on the rest. Are you suggesting that that specific prediction is immune to the principle of conditionality? On what basis would you say or think that?

  4. Eileen

    I am inclined to agree with Busani. My understanding is that scripture is applicable to all generations. However as we journey through Revelation is is clear that there is a progression in the time prophecies. Some have been fulfilled and some are future, that is clear. It seems that we are sitting somewhere within Revelation 12 to Revelation 14. We are of course anxious that Jesus should come soon, no different than every generation since His ascension. Ellen White does put detail into the puzzle which seems to line up with scripture, we will have to wait and see.

  5. Pastor Efenito Adap

    Revelation 14:11 “The smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever. They have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.“ i think we Need or should focus our attention to the phrase THE MARK OF HIS NAME. Talking about the name of the beast, it is ROME. This name will be used as the mark of the beast. Simply, the obvious fulfillment of this prophecy is the use of this name. (Rome) as in Roman Catholic Church. Whether you are American, Filipino, Canadian, Korean orChinese, in this faith represented by the pope you are called Roman Catholic. This name is also the manifestation of harlotry. This Church who is suppose to be Christian married to Christ is openly carrying the name of Rome universally. Proving that Sunday is the mark of the beast is casuistic. First you have to prove the Sabbath as mark of God which is not. Then jump that If the Sabbath is the mark of God, (and by the way it is not found in the Bible) therefore Sunday is the mark of the beast.

  6. Solomon Ayuen

    This is a great insight I appreciate it beloved 💖
    We should be much focus on time and place if we are to interpret the earlier writers!!


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