Tag Archives: prophets

Fundamental Belief Number 18 (The Gift of Prophecy)

One The Scriptures testify that one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is prophecy. This gift is an identifying mark of the remnant church and we believe it was manifested in the ministry of Ellen. G. White. As the Lord’s messenger, her Her writings speak with prophetic authority are a continuing and authoritative source of truth which provide for the church comfort, guidance, instruction, and correction to the church. They also make clear that the Bible is the standard by which all teaching and experience must be tested. (Num. 12:6; 2 Chron. 20:20; Amos 3:7; Joel 2:28, 29; Acts 2:14-21; 2 Tim 3:16,17; Heb. 1:1-3; Rev. 12:17; 19:10; 22:8, 9.) (Joel 2:28, 29; Acts 2:14-21; Heb. 1:1-3; Rev. 12:17; 19:10.)

This was perhaps the most thoroughly changed of all the 28 FBs, even more than number 6 on creation. The phrase including “Scriptures” makes the point that Adventists recognized in Ellen White’s ministry the biblical gift of prophecy. The multiple changes in the third sentence seek to avoid the impression that Ellen White and the Bible are equal sources of truth. The word “source” is difficult to translate into some languages without leaving the impression that her writings are equal to the Bible. “Authoritative source of truth” was the phrase that troubled many people, leading to the significant changes in this FB. This is one fundamental that isn’t based solely on Scripture. The biblical writers didn’t know Ellen White, so it is necessary to know a lot about her life and work to evaluate the gift that is claimed for her. To understand the relationship of Ellen White and the Bible within Adventism I strongly recommend the 1982 “Affirmations and Denials” document on the Ellen White Estate web site: http://www.whiteestate.org/issues/scripsda.html.

The church is beset by the tension between those who revere Ellen White and a generation that hardly knows her. This is unfortunate on both counts. Those who revere Ellen White often use her writings in ways that appear helpful to them but may diminish her reputation among many or most others. The way we present her ideas is probably as important as the content we share. On the other hand, those who are ignorant of her writings are missing out on a key element of a healthy Adventist mindset. To ignore John Wesley would be totally inappropriate for a Methodist. To ignore Ellen White is to miss out on an essential element of what it means to be an Adventist.

Loma Linda University has a long history of taking Ellen White seriously but not uncritically. To take her seriously means to talk about her and her writings a lot. It means to ponder their significance for a very different world than the one she lived in. It means to weigh both what is crucial for our ongoing heritage today and what is peripheral. Like most of us do with our mothers, it is important for Adventists to take Ellen White very seriously even when they discover that she was human and sometimes made mistakes. Recent Ellen White research has helped us to better understand both her best intentions and her limitations. Faculty at the School of Religion are in the process of evaluating all courses and putting more focus on Ellen White and Adventist heritage whenever appropriate.

The major challenge with this statement is that it largely lacks definition. It uses words like “prophecy” without defining them, assuming that readers will understand what was intended. What is meant by “prophecy” here? Is prophecy primarily about the future, about where history is going? That would not be the case with Ellen White. Like most of the biblical prophets, Ellen White was primarily a “forth-teller” rather than a “fore-teller.” Her mission was understanding history, speaking to the present and preparing for the future. To be a prophetic movement is more than just talking about the future, it includes speaking out against injustice and disobedience to the covenant.

In 2009 there was an important conference of scholars interested in Ellen White and 19th Century American religion. A third of the scholars were not of the Adventist faith and most were fairly unfamiliar with Ellen White. As they learned more and more about her, they came to believe that she had had more impact on American history than perhaps any other woman. They often asked questions like, “Why are you hiding her? Why don’t you place her in her historical context so that everyone can benefit from her contribution?” Most Adventist scholars seem interested only in Adventist sources and Adventist issues, but such an approach locks Ellen White away from others who might be quite interested if we were more willing to engage mainstream scholarship.

The sheer volume of Ellen White’s writings has made it a challenge to understand the balance and main emphases of her work and life. All that many enthusiasts seem to be interested in are her end-time writings and her guidance on diet. But these two issues, while important, do not come close to encompassing her entire life and thought. We desperately need good hermeneutics and balance as we study her writings.

The fundamental above starts with a broad approach (“one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. . .”), building on the previous fundamental, but quickly narrows its discussion of these gifts to focus exclusively on the ministry of Ellen G. White. But that raises the question. Was Ellen White the only prophet since John the Revelator? Is there not more to the New Testament gift of prophecy than simply the work of Ellen White? Similarly the phrase “gift of prophecy” is probably better than “spirit of prophecy.” The latter makes it appear as if the Holy Spirit has done little else in the last twenty centuries than inspire Ellen White. The Holy Spirit is a living voice and many of today’s youth would be more excited about Ellen White’s work if they understood the “living” nature of the Spirit’s work.

Another issue with the statement is how it ties the Spirit’s work to the church. If taken at face value, one might get the impression that the Spirit has nothing to do with the rest of the world, but that would not be biblical (John 1:9; 16:8-11) or true to experience. Missionaries have learned that their first responsibility is to find out what the Holy Spirit was doing in the local culture before the missionaries got there. Every culture and religion is a battle ground in the Great Controversy. The Holy Spirit is the primary agent of God’s activity within and in behalf of each culture.