Tag Archives: the world of Ellen White

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.