Category Archives: Historical

The Latest on Women’s Ordination and the Annual Council

I am sitting in the Biblical Research Committee of the General Conference. Just heard a report on the women’s ordination debate and I am now much more satisfied with what took place at the Annual Council of SDAs. It seemed to me at first that the church had simply “punted,” sending the 2015 session the same question they had already settled in 1995. It sounded to me like “deja vu all over again.” I couldn’t see why sensible people would agree to that. But that was because my attention had been focused on the question going to the floor of the General Conference as to whether segments of the church can differ in how they relate to ordination. But that was not all that was voted.

The actual voted document is four pages long. It was affirmed to me today by the chair of TOSC (Theology of Ordination Study Committee) that the voted question should not be read in isolation, but in the context of the whole four pages that were voted, and this is significant. Page four, paragraph one, essentially makes the point I have made in my solution to the problem. The Bible does not address the issue with the kind of clarity needed for the church to settle the matter for everyone in every place on the basis of the Bible alone. Please read the whole document: http://www.adventistreview.org/assets/public/news/2014-10/statement.pdf.

The bottom line of that paragraph is the point I made earlier this morning: The Bible does not either affirm or deny ordination to women. What makes this even more significant is that this statement comes as the unanimous affirmation of the world church’s officers. In other words, the entire leadership of the church wants us to understand that the settled outcome of two years of study by more than 200 people is that neither side has iced its case on the basis of the Bible. That being the case, the way is open to diversity on the matter, wherever mission to diverse situations calls for it.

Doubt the church leaders  were paying attention to my earlier blogs (well, I know that some did), but it feels good to know that the two-year process has been taken seriously. I was wrong to suggest this morning that the church “punted” the issue to next year, I believe they have actually listened carefully to the years of study around the world and felt that the Holy Spirit led them to this unanimous consensus in spite of many differences among them in detail. I look forward to further evidences of the Spirit’s work in the year to come.

Ellen White and the Book of Revelation III

The final blog in this short series summarizes random points of interpretation that can be found scattered throughout Ellen White’s writings, particularly in the book The Great Controversy. The concepts that follow are covered in the order of the texts in Revelation to which they apply, beginning with chapter 1 and ending with chapter 22. White understood the “Lord’s Day,” when the spirit came upon John (Rev 1:9-10), to be the Sabbath day (AA 581:3; YI April 5, 1900). She associates the heavenly scene of Revelation 4-5 with the ascension of Christ to heaven after His resurrection (DA 834-835). The lion and the lamb (Rev 5:5-6) are both symbols of Christ, representing the union of omnipotent power with self-sacrificing love (AA 589:2). The heavenly signs of the sixth seal (Rev 6:12-14) are usually associated with events leading up to the Advent movement in the mid-19th Century (GC 333-334).

While her language falls short of an endorsement, White approvingly reports the predictions of Josiah Litch related to the fifth and sixth trumpets (GC 334-335). The scene of Revelation 10 describes a point in history when the time periods of Daniel have reached their conclusion and the final proclamation of the gospel has begun (MS 59, 1900, quoted in 7BC 971). The two witnesses of Revelation 11 represent the Old and the New Testaments, and the descriptions of the chapter portray how the Bible was treated in the course of the French Revolution (GC 265-288).

Ellen White describes the war in heaven of Rev 12:7-12 in two different, but complementary ways. On the one hand, the scene describes a threat to the government of heaven that occurred even before the creation of the world. Satan, and all the angels who followed him, were physically cast out of heaven at that time (RH January 28, 1909; Letter 114, 1903, quoted in 7 BC 973). On the other hand, the casting out of the dragon reflects the impact of the cross on the affections of the universe (MS 50, 1900, quoted in 7 BC 974). At the cross, Satan lost any spiritual credibility he may have retained in heavenly places (3SP 194-195).

Ellen White understood the sea beast of Rev 13:1-10 to represent the papacy of the Middle Ages (GC 49-60), which is to have an end-time role in opposition to the true people of God (GC 445-450). While many of her statements against the leadership of the Roman Catholic Church are painfully strong by today’s standards (GC 563-581), other statements caution against personalizing one’s opposition to the papacy (Ev 576:1). She also recognizes that time and place need to be considered when expressing that opposition (TM 112:2; Ev 573-577).

Ellen White understood the land beast of Rev 13:11-14 as the United States of America in its end-time collaboration with the Roman heirarchy (GC 439-445). The Mark of the Beast is received when one rejects God’s final call to true Sabbath keeping and instead submits to the end-time enforcement of Sunday worship (GC 445-450). The three angels of Rev 14:6-12 represent believers in God’s end-time message who spread the last gospel message throughout the world (GC 311-312).

Ellen White did not consider the Battle of Armageddon (Rev 16:16) a military affair in the Middle East or elsewhere, to her Armageddon will be a last-day spiritual conflict between the people of God and the forces of evil (note several comments in 7BC 982-983). During that last conflict fundamental spiritual principles will be clarified and people will be brought to decision concerning them. It will be a time when faith is tested rather than physical power or skill (MS 1a, 1890, quoted in 7BC 983).

Regarding Revelation 20, Ellen White was a pre-millenialist. She believed that the millennium will be a thousand-year period after the Second Coming of Jesus. During that period the earth will be desolate of human beings, although Satan and his angels are confined there. The people of God are taken up to heaven at the second coming to spend the thousand years with God (GC 653-661). At the close of the millennium, the wicked of all time are resurrected and God’s people return to earth with the New Jerusalem to witness the final destruction of sin, sinners and Satan (GC662-673). The earth is then destroyed by fire and God creates a new heaven and a new earth in which God’s faithful people will dwell forever in joy and perfect harmony (GC 673-678). In White’s opinion, however, the best definition of heaven is not riches and glory, it is the presence of Christ (undated MS 58, quoted in 7BC 989).

Ellen White and the Book of Revelation II

Ellen White articulated a high spiritual purpose for the book of Revelation. 1) The book was designed to keep the human agent out of sight and to exalt God and His law (TM 112:2). When readers view the glory of God portrayed there human pride is laid in the dust. 2) The close connection between heaven and earth in the visions was designed to teach that the connection between God and His people is “close and decided” (TM 114:5; AA 586:1). 3) Rightly understood, Revelation enables presenters to “uplift Jesus as the center of all hope” (TM 118:1). Revelation was not designed to satisfy curiosity about the future but to fix human eyes on Jesus and encourage a closer walk with God.

Ellen White’s view of Revelation’s authorship and time of writing was in harmony with the traditions of the Early Church Fathers as well as the conservative consensus around the turn of the Twentieth Century. She taught that the author of Revelation was the last survivor of the disciples, presumably John the son of Zebedee (AA 569:1). The Apocalypse was written in the time of Emperor Domitian, who summoned John to Rome to be tried for his faith, had him cast into a cauldron of boiling oil, and then banished him to the Isle of Patmos, a place of banishment for criminals (AA 569:4-570:4).

Where her statements are clear, Ellen White seems to consistently apply the “historicist” method to the text of Revelation (EW 230:2). “Some of the scenes depicted in this prophecy are in the past, some are now taking place; some bring to view the close of the great conflict between the powers of darkness and the Prince of heaven, and some reveal the triumphs and joys of the redeemed in the earth made new” (AA 584:1). Two examples of her historicist approach: 1) she sees the letter to the church of Ephesus (Rev 2:1-7) as a description of the entire Christian church in the apostolic age (First Century AD– AA 578:1-2, cf. AA 585:3), and 2) the message to Laodicea is particularly applicable to the Adventist people at the end of time (MS 33, 1894, quoted in 7 BC 961).

At the same time, however, she also acknowledges that the book of Revelation was given “for the guidance and comfort of the church throughout the Christian dispensation” (AA 583:1), something more akin to the “idealist” approach. The overcomer promises of all the seven letters, for example (including Rev 2:7; 3:5 and 3:21), belong to all the faithful ones striving against evil throughout the centuries of darkness and superstition (AA 588:1-2). The message to Ephesus offers an example of how to reprove sin for ministers today (MS 136, 1902, quoted in 7BC 956). The message to Laodicea applies to all who profess to keep the law of God but are not doers of it (RH Oct 17, 1899; DA 489-490).

Whichever way one studies Revelation, however, Ellen White sees the book of Revelation fulfilling a special role in the final era of earth’s history (TM 113:0; 115:2; 116:2; GC 341-342). The truths of the book are “addressed to those living in these last days” (TM 113:3; 8T 301). Many parts of Revelation (she cites in this context Rev 15:2-3; 21:2-22; 22:1-5, 14; and 14:2-5) are directly concerned with the ultimate triumph of God’s remnant church (AA 590-592). She believed that her generation was nearing the time when those prophecies would be fulfilled (TM 113:3). So while historicism was her primary approach to Revelation, she understood that the entire book would have special significance for the very last days (TM 116:5; 9T 267). Even the chains of history portrayed there would help God’s people correctly estimate the value of things and discern “the true aim of life” (PK 548:1-2).

Ellen White and the Book of Revelation

For Seventh-day Adventists the study of the book of Revelation rarely occurs without reference to the writings of Ellen G. White, a highly-respected founder of the Adventist Church and a major female author of the 19th Century. While most of her comments on Revelation seem based more on the scholarship of the time rather than her own personal study or direct revelation from God, the spiritual power of her writings continues to impact people today as much as it ever did. In a short series of blogs, I would like to address her writings on Revelation (which are fewer than most people who know of her realize). The content of these blogs is based largely on my entry “Book of Revelation” in the new Ellen G. White Encyclopedia. References to her books and manuscripts are in the standard abbreviated format as suggested by the Ellen G. White Estate (http://www.whiteestate.org/).
 
Ellen White’s view of the book of Revelation is most clearly discerned in the two major places where she directly addresses her understanding of the context and purpose of the book. The first and most comprehensive treatment was published in the Review and Herald, Feb. 18, 1890 and republished in Testimonies to Ministers, 112-119. The second treatment consists of two chapters in Acts of the Apostles (568-592).

Ellen White’s approach to Revelation was informed by a basic conviction. She believed that an end-time explosion in the understanding of Daniel and Revelation was the key factor behind the rise of the Advent movement. She felt, in other words, that in her time God had lifted a veil off from these books, enabling them to be fully understood (TM 113:3). The book of Revelation, therefore, was addressed to those living in the last days and the time of fulfillment was near (TM 113:3; 115:2; 116:2; 6T 61-62).

Although the Adventist pioneers had invested much in the study of Revelation, Ellen White was convinced that the book had not yet been fully understood (TM 113:2). Those wishing a deeper understanding would need to approach the book “humbly and meekly” (TM 114:4). The deeper understanding of Revelation that they gained would be a great boon to character development (TM 114:3). There would be a “great revival” (TM 113:2) marked by “an entirely different religious experience” (TM 114:3). So the primary goal of Revelation, in her thinking, was not knowledge, but character.

In terms of method, this deeper study would need to take two, somewhat contrasting forms. On the one hand, Ellen White advocated studying Revelation in the context of Daniel, as a follow-up to the visions given there (TM 114:6; EW 231:2). The two books were to be treated as close companions (TM 115:3,4; AA 585:1). On the other hand, she urged people to study Revelation in the context of all the other prophecies in the Bible (TM 112:1). She even went so far as to suggest that in the book of Revelation “all the books of the Bible meet and end” (AA 585:1). So a whole-Bible approach with special attention to Daniel was the basic method she thought should be applied to Revelation. But while Daniel and Revelation are complimentary, the two books are not the same. Daniel contains much that was sealed up (Dan 12:4), but Revelation was not sealed, its mysteries have always been “open to the study of all” (AA 584:1; RH August 31, 1897).