From Graffitti in the Holy of Holies, by Clifford Goldstein. Copyright 2003 © by Pacific Press Publishing Association, Nampa, Idaho. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
BY CLIFFORD GOLDSTEIN
erman philosopher Immanuel Kant once constructed an entire
philosophy based on the difference between two types of sentences. The first
type (called analytic) is a statement such as: "The circle is round."
By definition, a circle is round, so the predicate of the sentence, "is
round," adds nothing to the subject, "the circle."
The second type (called synthetic) is a statement such as: "The
circle is red." Circles, to be circles, have to be round; they don't have
to be red. So the predicate, "is red," does add something to the subject
that we wouldn't get from its definition alone.
Now when we make the statement, "Ellen White is a prophet,"
what qualities and attributes do we automatically assume come packaged with
the word "prophet"? "Inerrancy"? "Character perfection"?
"Immutability"? "Originality"? Do these attributes belong
to "prophet" as "round" does to "circle?" Or are
they notions that don't of necessity, or by definition, belong there?
These questions are important because Adventists believe that
Ellen White's role was that of a prophet of God. And as such, she is often the
catalyst, the major issue, that has started many on the painful path out the
door of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Brother Dale is no exception. In The
Cultic Doctrine of Seventh-Day Adventists he makes Ellen White the
major issue, even though she shouldn't be. That she is--not just with Brother
Dale, but with so many others--says a lot about how we have mishandled this
wonderful God-given gift.
For me, the question of Ellen White's prophetic calling isn't
a question. For me, it's settled--like the existence of God, or of Jesus being
the Messiah, or of the continued validity of the seventh-day Sabbath. I've been
there, done that. Though questions, tensions, and issues may remain in these
areas, the basic points themselves have been resolved in my mind long ago.
What's still not fully resolved for me--what's still fermenting,
still brewing, in my brain is this: What should be the role and authority of
Ellen G. White in the church today? Again, you might as well try to convince
me that Sun Myung Moon is, as Moonies claim, the one sent by God to finish Christ's
work as try to convince me that Ellen White didn't manifest the "spirit
of prophecy." What isn't a given, however, is just what her role in the
church should be.
Yet I'm not overly concerned about totally understanding that
role because I know what I need to know to be a Seventh-day Adventist from my
Bible alone. Take Ellen White away from me, and the key teachings that have
made me an Adventist--a six-day Creation of life on earth, the death and resurrection
of Jesus, a literal Second Coming from heaven, the Sabbath, the state of the
dead, the sanctuary and 1844--all remain, with or without her.
That my life has been incomparably blessed by her, that her
writings have greatly strengthened my faith, that her witness and ministry are
a great source of continued encouragement to me, that she has helped clarify
in my mind many important issues, that she inspires me as no other noncanonical
author ever has, that I believe she was a messenger from God--to all these I
answer an unequivocal and unapologetic "Yes!" But she has not been,
nor through the grace of God will she ever be, the foundation of my faith. As
Adventists, when we wave the Reformation banner of sola scriptura, we
ought to mean it.
I didn't reach this position regarding Ellen White's ministry by accident. I
got here instead by a long and sometimes torturous road. I believe, too, that
I've managed (through the grace of God) to stay on the right path, however far
from the perfect center I am and probably always will be.
In my earliest days as a new Adventist, I held what I now deem
an erroneous and potentially dangerous view of Ellen White's ministry and inspiration,
a view prevalent in the church and one that has caused many, such as Dale Ratzlaff,
My first encounter with Ellen White goes back before I was
an Adventist. Having just had some powerful supernatural experiences, I stepped
through the door of the occult, thinking that here were answers to my questions
about the meaning of life. On my way to the university library to start reading
about the occult, I stopped at a health food store. When I mentioned to the
owner where I was going (to the library), and why (to read about the occult),
he tried to warn me about the devil (which at that point in my life was like
warning me that Santa wouldn't come down the chimney on Christmas Eve if I were
bad). Laughing him off as I left, I nevertheless did take a book that he gave
I then went to the library, pulled a book on the occult off
the shelf, and started reading it. After reading the first chapter of the occult
book, I put the put it back on the shelf (though not where it belonged, because
I wasn't enrolled in school at that time and couldn't check out books. So I
hid it to keep anyone else from checking it out before I came back and finished
Anyway, the bottom line is this: On that hot summer Florida
afternoon in the University of Florida library, I had in one hand, for the first
time in my life, a book on the occult, while in my other hand, literally, for
the first time in my life, was the book the owner of the health food store had
given me. Can you guess what the title of that book might be? Of course. The Great Controversy.
At that time, no inkling about what was happening flowed through
my mind. Though a few days afterward Christ came and converted me (ending my
foray into the occult), it was much later that I realized the significance of
having an occult book in one hand and The Great Controversy in the other--both
for the first time ever!
Thus, from the beginning, Ellen White has played a role in
my Christian walk. Nevertheless, when first presented with her, and her claims,
I was resistant, and understandably so (after all, the prophetic gift is heavy).
At one point after my conversion, yet a few months before joining the Adventist
Church, I read something that she wrote about a verse in Timothy which she had
attributed to Paul. Still hardly literate biblically, I thought that Timothy,
not Paul, had written the New Testament book of Timothy. I was thrilled! I had
found an error in Ellen White! She couldn't, then, be a prophet. And therefore,
I didn't have to accept her and the things she said that stomped on my toes.
Not long after, I discovered my error about the authorship
of Timothy, which defused my great reason for rejecting Ellen White. Yet the
incident is instructive, for though I soon believed in her gift, I went into
that belief assuming infallibility as a given attribute of a genuine prophet
(after all, could a prophet from a perfect God be anything but perfect herself?).
I believed that if I could find a mistake somewhere in her writings--even one--the
prophetic gift would have been nullified. After all, how could a prophet ever
be wrong, especially about anything religious?
This source of this mistaken belief, I think, goes back to
the definition of a "prophet." Though no one specifically taught me
how inspiration works (especially hers), I made certain assumptions based on
my understanding of the word "prophet." Among other things, these
assumptions included the notion of "inerrancy." Where that idea came
from, I don't know, though there is, I think, a tendency to automatically identify
the attributes of God with those of His servants, especially those who serve
Him in a prophetic role.
About a year later another incident shook up my paradigm. I
read where Ellen White talked about the "reform dress," and how she
was shown in vision what that dress should be like:
Three companies of females passed before me, with their dresses
as follows with respect to length: The first were of fashionable length, burdening
the limbs, impeding the step, and sweeping the street and gathering its filth;
the evil results of which I have fully stated. This class, who were slaves to
fashion, appeared feeble and languid.
The dress of the second class which passed before me was in
many respects as it should be. The limbs were well clad. They were free from
the burdens which the tyrant, Fashion, had imposed upon the first class; but
had gone to that extreme in the short dress as to disgust and prejudice good
people, and destroy in a great measure their own influence. This is the style
and influence of the "American Costume," taught and worn by many at
"Our Home," Dansville, N.Y. It does not reach to the knee. I need
not say that this style of dress was shown me to be too short.
A third class passed before me with cheerful countenances, and
free, elastic step. Their dress was the length I have described as proper, modest,
and healthful. It cleared the filth of the street and sidewalk a few inches
under all circumstances, such as ascending and descending steps, et cetera.
As I have before stated, the length was not given me in inches. 1
To me, it was perfectly clear: the Creator of the universe
had shown His prophet in vision ("three companies of females passed
before me") what the correct length of women's dresses should be. How could
there every be any question again in any faithful Adventist's mind? Yahweh had
spoken, and what does the Lord speak other than absolute, irrefutable, and terminal
However, at some point later, still in my Adventist nascence,
I read the following from Ellen White:
The question may be asked: "Why has this dress been laid
aside, and for what reason has dress reform ceased to be advocated?" The
reason for this change I will here briefly state. While many of our sisters
accepted this reform from principle, others opposed the simple, healthful style
of dress which it advocated. It required much labor to introduce this reform
among our people. It was not enough to present before our sisters the advantages
of such a dress and to convince them that it would meet the approval of God.
Fashion had so strong a hold upon them that they were slow to break away from
its control, even to obey the dictates of reason and conscience. And many who
professed to accept the reform made no change in their wrong habits of dress,
except in shortening the skirts and clothing the limbs.
Nor was this all. Some who adopted the reform were not content
to show by example the advantages of the dress, giving, when asked, their reasons
for adopting it, and letting the matter rest there. They sought to control others'
conscience by their own. If they wore it, others must put it on. They forgot
that none were to be compelled to wear the reform dress.
It was not my duty to urge the subject upon my sisters. After
presenting it before them as it had been shown me, I left them to their own
conscience . . . . Much unhappy feeling was created by those who were constantly
urging the reform dress upon their sisters. With extremists, this reform seemed
to constitute the sum and substance of their religion. It was the theme of conversation
and the burden of their hearts; and their minds were thus diverted from God
and the truth. . . . Some were greatly troubled because I did not make the dress
a test question, and still others because I advised those who had unbelieving
husbands or children not to adopt the reform dress, as it might lead to unhappiness
that would counteract all the good to be derived from its use. For years I carried
the burden of this work and labor to establish uniformity of dress among our
sisters . . . . I had no burden of testimony on the subject of dress. 2
The Creator of the Universe showed her what the dress should
be, but Ellen White "had no burden of testimony on the subject of dress"--even
telling the women to forget it? Though I went through this experience a long
time ago and don't remember my specific thoughts at the time, I do remember
realizing that I had much to learn about the meaning, authority, and role of
the prophetic gift. 3
Soon after this, Brother Walter Rea made a grand debut with
his accusations against Ellen White, culminating in The White Lie.4
However bitter his attitude, and however much I rejected his conclusions, Rea
did force the issue of her inspiration into the open. Although I didn't know
about Ellen White's literary borrowings and had been an Adventist only a few
months, I wasn't shocked or, as I think back, surprised. I was a little annoyed
that I hadn't been told about her borrowings (and wondered what else was out
there), but I soon realized that the issue of her using other sources wasn't
anything new. Perhaps, the reason no one told me was because I never asked.
I had never been explicitly taught that every word Ellen White wrote came directly
from God as if dictated by Him; I think I just assumed that's how it happened.
Plus, I was around people who used her writings as if every word were, indeed,
verbally inspired. But because "we can do nothing against the truth, but
for the truth" (2 Corinthians 13:18), Rea's material, by shoving these
issues into the face of the church, ultimately has helped me, and others, better
understand how inspiration works.
To begin, I now understand that not every statement, every
word, every utterance of Ellen White is an eternal, terminal truth, the final
word on any subject, be it eggs, cheese, or the "daily." And though
it has never been the official church position that her every word is the final
word on any subject, many Adventists still adhere to such a view either openly
or obliquely. No doubt thousands are no longer among us because, having held
that view, they were shattered when they discovered how untenable it is.
Much of what Ellen White wrote, whether directly from God in
vision, a general sermon at a camp meeting, or a letter to a wayward member,
must be placed in context. This is crucial, for it can help us understand why
in one place in her writings she would strongly warn against eating eggs, while
in another place she could strongly advocate eating them,5
or why in one place she would write that "cheese is still more objectionable;
it is wholly unfit for food," while in another say, "Tea, coffee,
tobacco, and alcohol we must present as sinful indulgences. We cannot place
on the same ground, meat, eggs, butter, cheese, and such articles placed upon
the table . . . . The poisonous narcotics are not to be treated in the same
way as the subject of eggs, butter, and cheese." 6
If these specific statements are terminal truths, Yahweh's
eternal commands, then there's a problem, because these eternal, terminal truths
are pitted against each other. Which of these eternal, terminal truths is the
ultimate eternal, terminal truth? Did God at one point forbid cheese, and then
at another point change His mind making it as benign as milk and butter? Unless
we allow ourselves some contextualization in how we interpret her writings,
what can people do with statements like these, and others, which many view not
only as direct verbal inspiration from the Lord, but as absolute truths for
which there is no higher source of authority?
The key with Ellen White, I've learned, is to look at the big
picture. What are the central issues she is addressing? What are the principles
behind what she's saying? What is the context? It's so crucial, too, to survey
all that she says on a topic, and not just pull a quote from here and there.
If we focus on minors, we're going to run into various "contradictions"
that demand the most convoluted and sophistic logic to solve. But above these
"minor" things an incredible underlying harmony pervades her writings;
the broad and important truths of salvation come out over and over again, expressed
in marvelous ways. The worst thing we can do (as many have done and still do)
is to build entire theologies, or even lifestyle paradigms, around a statement
here and there, as if each quote were in itself absolute truth. She didn't stand
for it in her life, and we defile her legacy by doing it now.
In my early Adventist years, for instance, I saw her statement
about cheese being wholly "unfit for food" as a direct command from
the Lord. (No one ever showed me the other quote, which placed cheese in the
same category as milk and butter.) I was heavily influenced by people who practically
built a lifestyle and theology around not eating cheese because of that one
quote. To me, eating cheese was almost the equivalent of receiving the mark
of the beast. In fact, about this time, a person I was working with had to call
me into her office and read some counsel from Ellen White about moderation in
health reform--after which, she kindly but firmly said, "Cliff, please
stop telling my staff that they will go to hell because they eat cheese!"
Later, after I loosened up some, I went out to eat with some
people who ordered a pizza. I ate it, but I refused to ask God's blessing on
it. How could I ask the Lord to bless what He, through His servant, had said
was wholly "unfit for food?"
Imagine, though, my thoughts when a year or two later I read
that other statement of Ellen White's (which, as I said, had not been shown
me before) in which the dreaded and evil cheese was placed in the same category
as milk, butter, and eggs! My head spun. What was going on here?
The problem, I then started to understand, wasn't with Ellen
White, but with my understanding of her ministry. As I look at it now, trying
to discern the principle here, I understand that without question Ellen White
viewed cheese as unhealthy. And she was right. I just saw in Newsweek
one of these food pyramids and, up near the top, among the foods that should
be taken in small doses, if at all, was cheese. Though cheese isn't the best
food (and I assume those with certain health problems should never eat it),
avoiding it isn't an issue of eternal truth in the sense that eating a slice
of pizza is a violation of a command of Yahweh. Especially as I age (I'm heading
toward the back door of my 40s), I eat cheese less and less. But it says a lot
about how thoroughly we've messed up this Ellen White thing that it took me
ten years to get to the point that I didn't feel like I needed to be re-baptized
because I ate a slice of brie!
I realize now how ludicrous and untenable my early views were.
I'm so thankful that, early on, I began seeing things differently, before having
years, even decades, of misunderstandings to undo. The clay was reconfigured
while still soft. Try remodeling hard clay; it crumbles into pieces that are
easily blown away by any breeze, with nothing but empty pews remaining.
How did we get ourselves in this mess? I don't know. Ever since
the Lord gave us the prophetic gift through the ministry of Ellen White, we've
struggled to know how to understand and utilize it. If Ellen White herself had
to deal with those who misused and misunderstood her work and writings while
she lived, what makes us think that the church would get it right long after
she's gone? I don't believe anyone meant ill, but we've created something that's
proving difficult to tame. After Ellen White's death, some of those seeking
to defend this wonderful gift perhaps went too far, creating an edifice that
was built on shaky pillars, an edifice that was not needed to begin with, one
that has now created many more problems than it has solved. Worse than not defending
the gift is defending it with weak arguments. We'd have been better off keeping
silent than speaking things that weren't correct.
For worship, I've been reading the first five books of Moses
in my Hebrew Bible and then reading Patriarch and Prophets. One morning
as I was reading, it hit me: Maybe we should have just left her alone.
That is, instead of building this entire apologetic structure, maybe we should
have said little, instead letting the material speak for itself. Rather than
cram it down people's throats, maybe we should have just printed the books,
sold them cheaply, and sat back and let the Holy Spirit--who no doubt worked
through the writer--work through the reader.
Though it's too late to turn back, much can still be done. Before anyone joins
this church, George Knight's Reading Ellen White7 ought
to be requisite study material. Knight captures the essence of the issue regarding
her inspiration. He covers many topics--everything from her role in theology,
to her use of historical sources, to her relationship to the Bible, as well
as her fallibility. Maybe I'm naive, but if this book, or one like it,
would have been written at the beginning of the twentieth century, rather than
at the end, we wouldn't be in the situation we're in now, and thousands who
left because they didn't understand her ministry would still be here, including,
maybe, Brother Ratzlaff.
BROTHER DALE AND ELLEN WHITE
Which brings us back to The Cultic Doctrine of Seventh-day Adventists,
Brother Ratzlaff's polemic against the pre-advent judgment, even though most
of the book is an attack on Ellen White's prophetic ministry.
As I said earlier, if he could disprove the pre-advent judgment,
Ellen White would be a moot point. But, as we have seen, his "biblical
evaluation" of the doctrine turned out to be as paltry as, for instance,
his pointing to The Study Bible as proof that Adventist are "tampering
with the Word." Even if the pre-Advent judgment were not biblical, it would
still take something better than his rehash of the same old arguments--not to
mention his complete ignoring of the church's best defenses against those arguments--in
order to show that it's not.
His attacks on Ellen White are of the same caliber as his attack
on the pre-Advent judgment--rehashed material, a selective use of the facts,
ignoring of our best defenses, etc. I usually don't get apologetic about Ellen
White; there's no need to. Her ministry speaks for itself. Plus, as I've said,
and repeat because it's crucial: I don't need her. I know what I need to know
to be an Adventist Christian from my Bible. Thus, his attack on Ellen White,
even if valid, disproves none of our doctrines (even Brother Dale admits that
"Ellen White never originated a single doctrine of Adventism"8
). Nevertheless, because this book is a response to his, I would be remiss in
not looking at least some of his charges against her.
In the preface, Brother Dale, writing about himself and his
wife, says, "We both accepted the writings of Ellen G. White as inspired
and authoritative." 9
That's fine; I and millions of others do, too. But what does
he mean by "inspired"? Inerrancy? Immutability? Verbal inspiration?
It becomes clear as you read his book that these attributes are exactly what
he means. Also, what does he mean by "authoritative"? He explains
that himself: "However, having grown up on SDA church history and having
once accepted the writings of EGW on an equal authority with the Bible . . .
."10 Elsewhere he writes, "I accepted her writings
on an equal authority with the Bible for many years of my life." 11
Again, in fairness to Brother Dale, he got those views honestly.
Whatever position we may take officially as a church, there are a lot of Adventists
who hold the same sentiments as he did. No wonder he, and others, had problems.
It's hard to see how anyone couldn't.
With this in mind, we can better understand the nature of his
attack because it stems from erroneous presuppositions regarding Ellen White's
inspiration and authority. No matter how good your logic, if your presuppositions
are wrong, you're likely to get wrong conclusions. Brother Dale is a prime example.
ELLEN WHITE AND WILLIAM MILLER
In what is the crux of his attack, Brother Dale goes on for pages about "Ellen
White's comprehensive endorsement of William Miller's methods and message."12
He pursues this point vigorously, because he believes he has found in it the
key to debunk her ministry. His logic is as follows: Ellen White, through her
visions, endorsed William Miller. Miller had errors. Ellen White, therefore,
can't be a true prophet.
Now, as we look at her endorsement of William Miller, and at
Brother Dale's critique of that endorsement, remember this point: Everything
Ellen White wrote about Miller and about God guiding Miller, she wrote after
the 1844 disappointment. In other words, everything she's saying she said
after Christ had not returned in 1843 or 1844, when Miller had expected Him
to. Though Brother Dale acknowledges this fact,13 he ignores
its implications because, to a great degree, they gut the force of his case.
Think about it. Ellen White wrote about Miller after 1844,
after the Disappointment, after it was obvious that in some things at
least, Miller was wrong. The main expected event, the Second Coming, didn't
happen, and Ellen White knew it didn't. How comprehensive, then, was her "comprehensive
endorsement"? Obviously, it didn't include everything Miller taught, not
even the most important point, because she knew that Christ hadn't returned
in 1843 or 1844. If she had been shown in vision beforehand that one or the
other date was correct, then it might be a different story. But whatever else
she endorsed about Miller, she did knowing full well (after all, she had experienced
the Great Disappointment herself) that Miller had been wrong about the Second
Coming at least.
Thus, right out of the gate, Brother Dale is confronted with
a dilemma whose implications he studiously ignores. The timing of her writing
proves that whatever she endorsed about Miller, it wasn't as "comprehensive"
as Brother Dale claims, if by "comprehensive" he means everything
Miller taught. Obviously, at the time of her writing, she didn't endorse his
claim that Christ would return in 1843-1844. And once you acknowledge that her
endorsement didn't cover everything Miller taught, the argument changes. Now,
one has to sift through the material and see just what it was she did and did
not endorse, something Brother Dale, in his sweeping charges against her, doesn't
do, at least not overtly.
Indeed, as we saw in chapter 1 (but worth repeating), Brother
Dale spends enormous energy on Miller's fifteen "proofs" for 1844,
the idea being that Ellen White endorsed all these and therefore can't be a
prophet. Yet in a later footnote (a footnote!) he admits that "it's not
clear if Ellen White endorsed all of Miller's fifteen 'proofs.' "14
Look at what's happening. Brother Dale expounds page after
page on the silliness of Miller's proofs, arguing that because Ellen White endorsed
them she cannot be a prophet. And yet, later, he admits that maybe she didn't
endorse them all! Thus, if "it's not clear if Ellen White endorsed
all of Miller's fifteen 'proofs,' " then it's not clear that her "comprehensive
endorsement" of Miller is as comprehensive as Brother Dale needs it to
be in order to build his case against her.
In fact, nowhere in CDSDA does Brother Dale give an example
of Ellen White endorsing Miller's other "proofs" for 1843-1844 (apart
from the argument based on Daniel 8:14), be they from Ezekiel, the Levitical
jubilees, or Exodus. Even one example would have provided powerful evidence
to buttress his polemic, yet he presents nothing because he has nothing. Contrary
to the point upon which he builds an entire argument against Ellen White (that
she endorsed all these proofs), no evidence indicates that she ever accepted
any of Miller's other evidences as valid time prophecies that would end in 1843-1844.
Read The Great Controversy. What does she use to establish
1844? Levitical jubilees, Ezekiel 39:9, 10; Exodus 31:13-17, or some of Miller's
other texts? No, she uses only one--Daniel 8:14, the one Brother Dale tried
so hard, and failed, to refute.
So far, we've established that however "comprehensive"
her endorsement of Miller, it certainly didn't include his belief that Christ
would return in 1843-1844 (arguably the most important part of his message),
nor, despite his claims, has Brother Dale produced one example of her endorsing
any of Miller's other fourteen "proofs" for 1844 apart from Daniel
Let's go further. Brother Dale quotes Ellen White's words about
the involvement of angels in Miller's ministry such as, "Angels of God
repeatedly visited that chosen one [Miller], and guided his mind, and opened
his understanding to prophecies which had been ever dark to God's people."15
He also notes that she wrote that the Lord had been leading Miller and that
"God led the mind of Miller into the prophecies, and gave him great light
upon the book of Revelation."16
How could angels, or even God, be guiding Miller if his positions
contained errors? And yet, Ellen White endorsed him, even with his errors. She,
therefore, had to be a false prophet.
Brother Dale's thinking, however logical, begins with a false
premise, that those whom God or angels lead must be theological infallible.
He's fallen into the trap mentioned earlier: the understandable tendency to
equate the attributes of God with His messengers.
For instance, God led John the Baptist. After all, Jesus Himself
said that there was no greater prophet than John (Luke 7:28). And yet, we find
John questioning the Messiahship of Jesus (Matthew 11:3), no small theological
point, to be sure. Or what about Peter who, though certainly led of God, refused
to eat with Gentiles when other Jews were around (Galatians 2)? Thus, sometime
after the Cross, after Jesus told Peter to "feed my sheep" (John 21:17),
after even Pentecost, Peter seems to have missed one of the foundational truths
of what Jesus taught and what the Cross was to accomplish (Galatians 3:28).
In The Great Controversy, Ellen White wrote of Martin
Luther that "angels of heaven were by his side, and rays of light from
the throne of God revealed the treasure of truth to his understanding."17
Does that mean that everything Luther wrote was from God? What Protestant who
loves the gospel that Martin Luther unearthed from centuries of rubbish and
superstition doesn't believe that the Lord led Luther? And yet, did Ellen White's
endorsement (after all having angels of heaven by your side is a pretty good
endorsement) mean that she would have supported Luther's vitriol against those
who believed in the seventh-day Sabbath? Would she have endorsed his attacks
against Ulrich Zwingli, who argued that the bread and wine in the Lord's supper
were just symbols as opposed to Luther's more Catholic-leaning position of a
real presence of Christ in them? Did this mean that she agreed with Luther's
diatribes against the Jews, in which he wrote things the Nazis used centuries
later to help pave the way for mass murder? Yet, to follow Brother Dale's logic,
since angels from heaven were sent to Luther and he was led of God, therefore,
how could he be in error? In the same way, angels of God guided Miller, who
was led of God; therefore how could he be in error?
Knowing the context of Miller's (and Ellen White's) religious
world is crucial in understanding her endorsement. Miller preached during an
era of rampant postmillennialism. Protestants believed that Christ would return
after the millennium on earth, a millennium that they believed the world
was now entering. The world, they taught, would steadily improve until it reached
a state of utopia, at which time Jesus would return and assume His throne in
Jerusalem. Darwin, meanwhile, publishing his material on evolution--which argued
that humans themselves were evolving toward a higher state--added his own fuel
to the postmillennialist fire. This postmillennial doctrine was held by millions
of Protestants into the first few decades of the twentieth, and was dislodged
only by World War I.
But more than half a century before the Somme and Verdun, Miller's
advent message unabashedly railed against this silliness. Studying the prophecies
of Daniel and Revelation, Miller--led of God and His angels--said No, No,
No, the world isn't getting better. On the contrary, it's getting worse, and
it's heading not toward some earthly millennial paradise but toward a final
cataclysm that will end with the return of Christ. It was this basic teaching,
in the context of Miller's calculations around the time prophecies of Daniel
8 and 9, as opposed to postmillennialism, that Ellen White endorsed--just as
she endorsed Luther's basic teaching on the gospel and justification by faith
in the context of opposition to the whole papal system. Her endorsement no more
covered all that Miller taught than it covered all that Luther taught. In both
cases, she pulled out a basic thread, or flow of belief, and concentrated on
Brother Dale runs with these two statements: "I saw that
God was in the proclamation of the time in 1843. It was His design to arouse
the people and bring them to a testing point, where they should decide for or
against the truth"18 and, "I have seen that
the 1843 chart was directed by the hand of the Lord, and that it should not
be altered; that the figures were as He wanted them; that His hand was over
and hid a mistake in some of the figures, so that none could see it, until His
hand was removed."19
Again, she wrote this after the 1844 disappointment,
so she knew that not everything Miller taught was correct, particularly the
1843 date. Indeed, despite Brother Dale's claim about her "comprehensive"
endorsement, she says right in the quotation he cites that some of the figures
in Miller's chart were wrong--more proof that her endorsement of Miller didn't
cover everything. Thus, besides knowing (obviously) that Miller was wrong about
the event in 1844, she knew he had some of the figures wrong, too. Hardly a
blanket endorsement, to be sure.
But what is she talking about? Did God purposely deceive the
Millerites by holding His hand over error?
To begin, we're dealing with a metaphor here (God's hand covering
mistakes in Miller's chart), and metaphors are just that, metaphors, and thus
not to be taken literally. I see two possible approaches here:
1. God supernaturally hid the truth from Miller and his followers,
much as Jesus did with the men on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-16).
2. God didn't reveal more truth to Miller at that time, despite
some errors in his thinking, just as He didn't reveal more truth to the disciples
who asked just before Jesus returned to heaven, "Lord, wilt thou at this
time restore again the kingdom to Israel?" (Acts 1:6.)
I opt for the second approach--that the Lord simply took Miller
and his followers as far as they were able to go at that time, a principle seen
in various places in the Bible as well (1 Corinthians 3:2; John 16:12). One
of the clearest examples is with the woman at the well in John 4. Why did Jesus
tell her, a non-Jew, that He was the Messiah, when with the Jews He wasn't so
candid? It's because the Lord knew just how far people could be led, how far
their minds could be stretched with truths that they didn't fully understand.
And this, I believe, explains what's happening here. The Lord
took Miller and others as far as they were able to go at that time. That's
why Ellen White could write that the figures were just as God wanted them, at
that time, and that nothing was to be altered, at that time. (Remember,
she was writing this after it was clear that the 1843 figure was wrong.) Then,
when the time was right, the Lord removed His hand, that is, He gave His people
more light, and they could see their mistakes.
In the late 1970s, the Lord used a book written by Hal Lindsey
to help open me up to the truth of Christianity. Though filled with one ridiculous
teaching after another, the book was, nevertheless, a catalyst that helped bring
me to Christ. Over time I saw the errors, even though the Lord had used those
errors, at that time, to take me from where I was to where He eventually
wanted me to be.
It's also important to know that Ellen White wrote what she
did about the 1843 date in the context of those who were setting other, later,
dates. Trying to get them away from date setting, she affirmed the basic calculations
of Miller, which despite some errors, were essentially right.
Brother Dale makes a big deal out of the fact that she said
the Lord was "in the proclamation of 1843." But how could He be because,
after all, the proclamation contained error? Again, could God not be leading
people who still had some error? Luther is a prime example. Also, I believe
the Lord has led the Seventh-day Adventist Church, even though some among us
in the early years held errors--for instance, non-Trinitarian views. God took
the Millerites as far as they were able to go at that time. If you believe,
as I do, that Miller's basic calculations regarding Daniel 8 and 9 were correct,
despite a mistake in "some of the figures," then it's quite amazing
how far God had led them, allowing them to get so much truth from the Bible,
especially at a time when the prevailing theological currents were teaching
that the world had already entered a glorious thousand-year period that would
climax with Jesus ruling the happy planet from Jerusalem.
Again, if the 1844 judgment is wrong, it's going to take a
lot more evidence than Brother Dale has presented to prove it wrong. But it's
right; God did lead Miller and there were angels at his side.
God used Miller to lay the foundation of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, which
paved the way for the modern eschatological platform held by so many Christian
denominations today, which thanks to Adventists includes the idea of a visible
second coming of Christ at the end of the world.
Then there are the three angels' messages of Revelation 14,
the most rational, historically valid, and theologically balanced understanding
of last-day events that has ever been developed. (What are some of the alternatives?
How about, for instance, the secret rapture--in which airline pilots disappear
from the cockpit, swept up to heaven, with nothing remaining behind but their
uniforms?) Seventh-day Adventists are the largest non-Jewish Sabbath-keeping
movement in the world and is one of the few Christian denominations that has
shed the Greek concept of an immortal soul and the pagan idea of the righteous
dead going right to heaven, a "baptized" version of Plato's ascent
of the soul. And despite Brother Dale's failed attempted to debunk it, the 1844
pre-advent judgment is the final heavenly event (see Daniel 7) that leads to
the Second Coming and the end of the world; thus it's an event of massive importance
that Adventists alone are teaching. All this, and more, began with William Miller.
No wonder Ellen White endorsed him.
Ellen White knew that Miller was wrong about the event itself,
the Second Coming in 1844, because she wrote after the Disappointment.
Brother Dale is forced to admit that it's not clear that she
endorsed all of Miller's proofs.
Brother Dale gives no example of her ever endorsing any of
Miller's arguments other than his proof from Daniel 8:14 (and that's because
she didn't do so).
Despite her statements that God led Miller, that's no proof
that she endorsed everything Miller taught.
She even admitted that there was a mistake in some of Miller's
Brother Dale builds one of his main arguments against Ellen
White on the premise of her "comprehensive" endorsement of Miller
and all that he taught. The evidence proves that premise wrong; his argument,
THE SHUT DOOR
No one attacking Ellen White ever avoids opening the "shut door" controversy.
This issue began early in her ministry and, no matter the evidence countering
the critics' conclusions, is still brought up because of a few lines that--taken
out of context and without explanation--make good fodder for the critics.
I don't intend to repeat all that's been written on this (and
much has). Instead, I want to look the main accusation, which is that Ellen
White was shown in vision that the door of mercy had shut on the whole
world after 1844. Then I want to ask, What evidence does Brother Dale present
to prove that accusation?
Notice, the question is not: Did Ellen White ever believe
that the door of probation had closed for the world after 1844. She, along with
many of the Millerites, did believe this, at least for awhile, even after she
started having visions. But holding a belief is a different issue entirely than
the claim that she was shown in vision that the whole world was lost after 1844.
After all, having a vision doesn't suddenly make a person infallible in all
Brother Dale seeks to discredit Ellen White. And if having
ever held an erroneous view, even after receiving the prophetic gift, is all
that it takes to discredit her, the battle's over before it's fought. But his
argument (and that of others) is that she was shown in vision, by God, that
probation for the whole world had ended after 1844.
Brother Dale quotes material from the Camden vision, which
has long been suspect as a fraud, so we can discard that. Let's go, instead,
with what is unquestionably her authentic writings. Interestingly enough, Brother
Dale produces nothing in which Ellen White says that the Lord or an angel showed
her in vision that probation had closed for the world after 1844. Instead, he
takes a quote from one of her early visions and builds his case mostly from
The quote in question is from her first vision which was given
to her on December, 1844:
While praying at the family altar, the Holy Ghost fell on me,
and I seemed to be rising higher and higher, far above the dark world. I turned
to look for the Advent people in the world, but could not find them--when a
voice said to me, "Look again, and look a little higher." At this
I raised my eyes and saw a straight and narrow path, cast up high above the
world. On this path the Advent people were traveling to the City, which was
at the farther end of the path. They had a bright light set up behind them at
the first end of the path, which an angel told me was the Midnight Cry. This
light shone all along the path, and gave light for their feet so they might
not stumble. And if they kept their eyes fixed on Jesus, who was just before
them, leading them to the City, they were safe. But soon some grew weary, and
they said the City was a great way off, and they expected to have entered it
before. Then Jesus would encourage them by raising his glorious right arm, and
from his arm came a glorious light which waved over the Advent band, and they
shouted Hallelujah! Others rashly denied the light behind them, and said
that it was not God that had led them out so far. The light behind them went
out leaving their feet in perfect darkness, and they stumbled and got their
eyes off the mark and lost sight of Jesus, and fell off the path down in the
dark and wicked world below. It was just as impossible for them to get on the
path again and go to the City, as all the wicked world which God had rejected
20 (italics supplied).
Brother Ratzlaff, quotes this part of this vision, and writes, "EGW was
shown that it was impossible for the people who renounced the Millerite message,
or its interpretation, to be saved. Second, God had rejected all the
There are a few problems, however, with his interpretation
of what the vision says. To begin, read what she wrote--or didn't write. She
never said that she was shown that the whole wicked world was lost. Never
did she say, "An angel showed me that the whole wicked world was lost,"
or "The Lord showed me that the whole wicked world was lost"--the
kind of language she used in numerous other instances. That she might
have believed these things, at least for awhile, is another matter. At
most, what happened here is that she might have read some things into her interpretation
of the vision which were not specifically taught by the vision. And whatever
questions that suggestion might evoke, it's not the same as saying that she
had been shown this belief by God.
The above quote was taken from her first vision, given when
she was a seventeen-year-old girl, not highly educated, not overly literate,
nor well-read nor theologically sophisticated. That she could have read more
into the vision than was warranted, or even that she might have misinterpreted
the vision--particularly since it was her first one--is far different from specifically
saying that she was shown something by God. Years later she would write: "Often
representations are given me which at first I do not understand, but after a
time they are made plain by a repeated presentation of those things that I did
not at first comprehend, and in ways that make their meaning clear and unmistakable"
(Letter 329, 1904). So even after experiencing the prophetic gift for a number
of years, she says that sometimes she doesn't understand at first what is shown
her, and only later, by repeated presentations, does she finally understand.
Daniel, likewise, said that he didn't understand the vision of the 2,300 days
(Daniel 8:27), and it wasn't until years later that more information was given
to him (see Daniel 9:24-27).
Thus, whatever Ellen White was shown in that first vision,
she could have simply read more into it than was there. Is that not possible
for a prophet to do, or are we again attributing the attributes of Deity to
But couldn't God have rearranged the neurons in her brain so
she would have interpreted the vision perfectly? Of course He could, in the
same way he could have rearranged the neurons in John the Baptist's head so
that He would not have doubted the Messiahship of Jesus. Why God didn't do so
in either case is, I suppose, a question that we can one day ask Him face to
face. Meanwhile, we're left with the idea that Ellen Harmon, this seventeen-year-old
girl, given her first vision, might simply have used language descriptive of
beliefs that she already held when first given the vision.
Ellen White (then Harmon) along with the Millerites believed
that when Christ would return, the door of probation would be closed, much like
we believe today. After Christ didn't return, many of these Millerites still
clung to some of their beliefs surrounding the events of 1844, including the
idea that sinners had rejected their day of grace in 1844.
However, correcting this error was not the purpose of that
first vision. Instead, the Lord wanted to show Ellen White that the Millerites
shouldn't give up on their Advent faith, that God had led them, and that they
needed to stay on the path and not fall away like others who had rejected the
light God had given. That's the point of the vision: to keep the Millerites
from turning away, as others had done.
Then there's the whole question of the grammatical construction
of the last clause in that final sentence, which reads, "as all the wicked
world which God had rejected." The grammar is ambiguous; it can be understood
in either a restrictive or nonrestrictive manner, with two entirely different
Read the following two sentences:
- The house that is red burned down.
- The house, which is red, burned down.
The difference isn't readily apparent, but they're not saying
the same thing. Grammatically, the first sentence (which is non-restrictive)
implies the existence of two or more houses, one of which happens to be red.
It is that house--the red one--that burned. The second sentence (which is restrictive)
implies there is only one house, and that house is red.
When you read the clause that Ellen White wrote, "all
the wicked world which God had rejected," the grammar isn't clear whether
"which God had rejected" is a restrictive clause or a nonrestrictive
one. In other words, did she mean that all the world was wicked, and God had
rejected it all (nonrestrictive)? Or did she mean that God had rejected only
the wicked people in the world, but not those in the world who were not wicked
(restrictive)? If it's the latter, then the issue at stake isn't even a question
of interpretation but of grammar, which shouldn't be a problem unless folks
believe that God's perfection and infallibility must be present in the grammar
of His servants as well.
Years later, responding to charges that she had taught through
her visions that probation had closed for the world in 1844 (and therefore that
these statements had been left out of later printings of the visions), Ellen
It is claimed that these expressions prove the shut door doctrine,
and that this is the reason of their omission in later editions. But in fact
they teach only that which has been and is still held by us as a people, as
I shall show.
For a time after the disappointment in 1844, I did hold, in
common with the advent body, that the door of mercy was then forever closed
to the world. This position was taken before my first vision was given me. It
was the light given me of God that corrected our error, and enabled us to see
the true position.
Notice, she's saying very clearly that, prior to her first vision, she believed
as did other Adventists that the door of mercy was forever closed. She's not
saying that her first vision corrected that view, only that she held this view
prior to her first vision. Later, gradually, from light given to her
of God after the first vision, her position changed. The first vision was given
for another purpose, even if she possibly read more into it than the Lord intended.
She continued her explanation:
I am still a believer in the shut door theory, but not in the
sense in which we at first employed the term or in which it is employed by my
There was a shut door in Noah's day. There was at that time
a withdrawal of the Spirit of God from the sinful race that perished in the
waters of the Flood. God Himself gave the shut door message to Noah: "My
spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his
days shall be an hundred and twenty years" (Gen. 6:3).
There was a shut door in the days of Abraham. Mercy ceased to
plead with the inhabitants of Sodom, and all but Lot, with his wife and two
daughters, were consumed by the fire sent down from heaven.
There was a shut door in Christ's day. The Son of God declared
to the unbelieving Jews of that generation, "Your house is left unto you
desolate" (Matt. 23:38).
Looking down the stream of time to the last days, the same infinite
power proclaimed through John: "These things saith he that is holy, he
that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth;
and shutteth, and no man openeth" (Rev. 3:7).
I was shown in vision, and I still believe, that there was a
shut door in 1844. All who saw the light of the first and second angels' messages
and rejected that light, were left in darkness. And those who accepted it and
received the Holy Spirit which attended the proclamation of the message from
heaven, and who afterward renounced their faith and pronounced their experience
a delusion, thereby rejected the Spirit of God, and it no longer pleaded with
Those who did not see the light, had not the guilt of its rejection. It was
only the class who had despised the light from heaven that the Spirit of God
could not reach. And this class included, as I have stated, both those who refused
to accept the message when it was presented to them, and also those who, having
received it, afterward renounced their faith. These might have a form of godliness,
and profess to be followers of Christ; but having no living connection with
God, they would be taken captive by the delusions of Satan. These two classes
are brought to view in the vision--those who declared the light which they had
followed a delusion, and the wicked of the world who, having rejected the light,
had been rejected of God. No reference is made to those who had not seen the
light, and therefore were not guilty of its rejection.22
Notice, she's taking the restrictive view, that is, she's saying that the vision
did not mean that the whole world was wicked and was lost (though she herself
believed that for at time), but that all those in the wicked world who, having
rejected the light, had been rejected of God. The group rejected by God
becomes, then, not the whole world, but just those who had rejected the light
God had given them. And if even that seems unduly harsh, read what the author
of Hebrews says in a much broader context than what Ellen White was dealing
with: "For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have
tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and
have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they
shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to
themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame" (Hebrews
So what does the evidence indicate thus far?
First, nowhere does Ellen White ever claim to have been shown
in vision that probation had closed for the entire world after 1844. Yet this
is what Brother Dale claims, and he bases another attack against her on this
Second, at worst one could say she read more into her first
vision than was there. If someone believes that a prophet can't do that, then
there is no point in arguing the point further. However, if one believes, as
she herself said, that she didn't always understand at first what was shown
her in vision, then the issue becomes less problematic. She simply wrote out
the vision she had seen in the context of what she believed at the time. Later,
over time, the Lord corrected the erroneous Millerite views.
Third, the grammar of the highly contested clause is, itself,
ambiguous; it's possible to read it in a manner that doesn't mean the whole
world was lost, but only a restricted part of that world. Ellen White, writing
later about her views, seems to have interpreted that sentence in a manner that
doesn't have her saying what her opponents claim it's saying. Thus, the critics
charge is greatly weakened, for not only did she never claim that God showed
her in vision that the entire world was lost after 1844, but she later maintained
that she never said it herself, whatever she might have personally believed.
Whether it's an interpretation problem or a grammatical one,
either way Brother Dale's point--that she claimed in vision God showed her that
probation closed for the world after 1844--is wrong.
Brother Dale also accuses the early Adventists of deception
because over time they redefined their understanding of the "shut door,"
changing it from the idea of the close of probation to the idea of Christ's
ministry in the heavenly sanctuary. To quote Ellen White again: "I am still
a believer in the shut door theory, but not in the sense in which we at first
employed the term or in which it is employed by my opponents." In other
words, the early Adventists learned more, they had outgrown some early errors,
and now they understood the concept of the "shut door" differently
than in the past. What a horrible deception!
Here's how she later used the term:
Sabbath, March 24, 1849, we had a sweet and very interesting
meeting with the brethren at Topsham, Maine. The Holy Ghost was poured out upon
us, and I was taken off in the Spirit to the city of the living God. Then I
was shown that the commandments of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ relating
to the shut door could not be separated, and that the time for the commandments
of God to shine out with all their importance, and for God's people to be tried
on the Sabbath truth, was when the door was opened in the most holy place in
the heavenly sanctuary, where the ark is, in which are contained the ten commandments.
This door was not opened until the mediation of Jesus was finished in the holy
place of the sanctuary in 1844. Then Jesus rose up and shut the door of the
holy place, and opened the door into the most holy, and passed within the second
veil, where He now stands by the ark, and where the faith of Israel now reaches.
I saw that Jesus had shut the door of the holy place, and no
man can open it; and that He had opened the door into the most holy, and no
man can shut it; and that since Jesus has opened the door into the most holy
place, which contains the ark, the commandments have been shining out to God's
people, and they are being tested on the Sabbath question.23
Brother Dale seems to equate a change in understanding with
deception. If so, what is he going to do with Peter, who until his vision (Acts
10) thought that Gentiles were unclean? If a church, or even a prophet, can't
grow in understanding without being deceptive, Brother Dale would have a problem
with the whole New Testament church, which Paul was constantly trying to bring
into greater light. If the New Testament Christians grew in their understanding,
and old teachings or beliefs were replaced by better ones, ones that reflected
more truth, were they being dishonest? Or what about the Jews in the early church?
These people still considered themselves Jews, only now with more light. Were
these people being dishonest because their positions changed over time? According
to Brother Dale, the answer must be "Yes."
Finally, Brother Dale makes an issue of the fact that the controversial
part of Ellen White's explanation of the first vision was deleted when it appeared
later in Early Writings, especially, he says, because the publishers
denied any deletions. Here, too, Brother Dale can be accused of either shoddy
scholarship or just plain dishonesty.
The preface of Early Writings, which is a reprint of
a book published in 1851, makes the following claim:
Aside from these, no changes from the original work have been
made in the present edition, except the occasional employment of a new word,
or a change in the construction of a sentence, to better express the idea, and
no portion of the work has been omitted. No shadow of change has been made in
any idea or sentiment of the original work, and the verbal changes have been
made under the author's own eye, and with her full approval.24
Thus, according to the preface, no major change was made between
the 1851 edition and its reprint, Early Writings. But what Brother Dale
either didn't know, or neglected to mention, was that in the 1851 work itself
that controversial sentence had already been deleted. This means that
when the book was reprinted, under the title Early Writings, that quote
was already gone. Thus, as the preface had said, no deletions occurred; the
1851 book was simply reprinted.
However, after quoting the Early Writings preface, which
denied any deletions between it and the 1851 version, Brother Dale contrasts
Early Writings, not with the 1851 version--the one mentioned in the preface--but
with the 1845 version, where the quote was first printed. In other words,
he compares Early Writings with a different version of the vision than
the one referred to in the preface, giving the impression that the preface was
untruthful when it wasn't.
Of course, this still leaves open the question of why the publishers
made the deletion to begin with--even though that's a radically different issue
from Brother Dale's false charge that they lied about it. But the deletion is
not a big deal, unless you believe that everything written by someone with the
prophetic gift is verbally dictated from heaven and therefore can undergo no
editing or revision. This is not what Adventists claim for inspiration, and
certainly not what we claim for Ellen White. From the beginning of her ministry,
Ellen White's works have gone through editing, revisions, and changes, sometimes
numerous times, as any informed Adventist should know. In 1858 she wrote Spiritual
Gifts, which was revised in 1884 as Spirit of Prophecy Vol. 4, which
was expanded again in 1888 to The Great Controversy, which faced another
revision in 1911. Each of these versions involved deletions, additions, and
revisions. That early Adventists, therefore, should take something she wrote
at seventeen or eighteen years of age--something that had caused confusion,
something that could be understood as stating a position they no longer believed--and
edit it out in later versions is hardly part of some massive cover up, despite
Brother Dale's claims to the contrary. There was no deception--at least on the
ELLEN WHITE AND THE GOSPEL
All through The Cultic Doctrine of Seventh-day Adventists, an underlying
motif emerges: Ellen White's writings are anti-gospel and mitigate against the
doctrine of justification by faith alone. We showed, in the last chapter, how
false that claim is, at least in the context of the pre-advent judgment. Even
outside that context, however, Brother Dale keeps the charge coming:
Ellen White says that we are not saved by faith alone."25
EGW says that the imputed righteousness of Christ is not enough
to save sinners.26
EGW said it was the false teachers who claim that Christ
came to save sinners.27
She will, however, often give the gospel with her right hand
and then take it away with her left.28
The confusion of the SDA church regarding the gospel must be
placed squarely upon Ellen G. White.29
As we have seen throughout this book, many of her statements
are totally erroneous, and here is the important point: many of them distort,
undermine or contradict the new covenant gospel of grace.30
How does one answer these charges?
Let's begin with a hypothetical situation. Suppose someone
were to ask Ellen White, "Sister White, what must I do to have eternal
life?" and she were to respond, "If you want eternal life, keep the
commandments" (see Matthew 19:17). Why, I imagine Brother Dale would be
indignant, using this response as more evidence that Ellen White's views "distort,
undermine or contradict the new covenant gospel of grace."
Or suppose someone were to ask, "Sister White, how important
is it that I get the victory over sin?" and she were to respond, "And
if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is
profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy
whole body should be cast into hell" (see Matthew 5:30). Brother Dale would
have another statement to prove that Ellen White was anti-gospel.
Or suppose she said, "Ye see then how that by works a
man is justified, and not by faith only" (see James 2:17). Or "Little
children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous,
even as he [Jesus] is righteous" (1 John 3:7). It doesn't take much imagination
to realize the reaction these words, were they from Ellen White, would evoke
in Brother Dale. But they're from the Bible, and not just the Bible, but the
New Testament and its covenant of grace.
Does the New Testament then take away with its left hand the
gospel it offers with its right, as Brother Dale claims Ellen White does? Or
do these New Testament quotes simply need to be looked at in context,
in full view of its other writings in order to get the total meaning?
Of course, it's the latter, not only with the Bible but with
Ellen White's writings. Her words need to looked at in context and in full view
of her other writings in order to get the true picture of what she says. Anyone
can do, as Brother Dale does and quote a bunch of her statements without reference
to the context, without reference to other things she said, without reference
to the big picture, and have her sound as legalistic or anti-gospel as do Paul,
James, or even Jesus in the Bible quotes listed above.
Below are just a few Ellen White statements on the gospel.
Though I'm doing what I just decried in Brother Dale (stringing together Ellen
White quotes without context), I do it to show that she, just like the Bible,
has some very strong statements that clearly teach justification by faith alone
despite other statements that, when taken in isolation or out of the full context
of her writing, can sound legalistic (as can the Bible). Here, however, are
a few statements from Ellen White on the subject of salvation and justification:
There is not a point that needs to be dwelt upon more earnestly,
repeated more frequently, or established more firmly in the minds of all, than
the impossibility of fallen man meriting anything by his own best good works.
Salvation is through faith in Jesus Christ alone. . . .
Let the subject be made distinct and plain that it is not possible
to effect anything in our standing before God or in the gift of God to us through
creature merit. Should faith and works purchase the gift of salvation for anyone,
then the Creator is under obligation to the creature. Here is an opportunity
for falsehood to be accepted as truth. If any man can merit salvation by anything
he may do, then he is in the same position as the Catholic to do penance for
his sins. Salvation, then, is partly of debt that may be earned as wages. If
man cannot, by any of his good works, merit salvation, then it must be wholly
of grace, received by man as a sinner because he receives and believes in Jesus.
It is wholly a free gift. Justification by faith is placed beyond controversy.
And all this controversy is ended, as soon as the matter is settled that the
merits of fallen man in his good works can never procure eternal life for him.31
The light given me of God places this important subject above any question in
my mind. Justification is wholly of grace and not procured by any works that
fallen man can do. The matter has been presented before me in clear lines that
if the rich man has money and possessions, and he makes an offering of the same
to the Lord, false ideas come in to spoil the offering by the thought he has
merited the favor of God, that the Lord is under obligation to him to regard
him with special favor because of this gift.32
My brethren, are you expecting that your merit will recommend
you to the favor of God, thinking that you must be free from sin before you
trust His power to save? If this is the struggle going on in your mind, I fear
you will gain no strength, and will finally become discouraged.33
Grace is unmerited favor, and the believer is justified without
any merit of his own, without any claim to offer to God. He is justified through
the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, who stands in the courts of heaven as
the sinner's substitute and surety.34
Every soul may say: "By His perfect obedience He has satisfied
the claims of the law, and my only hope is found in looking to Him as my substitute
and surety, who obeyed the law perfectly for me. By faith in His merits I am
free from the condemnation of the law. He clothes me with His righteousness,
which answers all the demands of the law. I am complete in Him who brings in
everlasting righteousness. He presents me to God in the spotless garment of
which no thread was woven by any human agent. All is of Christ, and all the
glory, honor, and majesty are to be given to the Lamb of God, which taketh away
the sins of the world.35
We are accepted in the Beloved. The sinner's defects are covered
by the perfection and fullness of the Lord our Righteousness. Those who with
sincere will, with contrite heart, are putting forth humble efforts to live
up to the requirements of God, are looked upon by the Father with pitying, tender
love; He regards such as obedient children, and the righteousness of Christ
is imputed unto them.36
I have a most earnest desire that you shall enter the city of God, not as a
culprit barely pardoned, but as a conqueror.37
As the sinner looks to the law, his guilt is made plain to
him and pressed home to his conscience, and he is condemned. His only comfort
and hope is found in looking to the cross of Calvary. As he ventures upon the
promises, taking God at His word, relief and peace come to his soul. He cries,
"Lord, Thou hast promised to save all who come unto Thee in the name of
Thy Son. I am a lost, helpless, hopeless soul. Lord, save, or I perish."
His faith lays hold on Christ, and he is justified before God.38
By Him who speaketh truth he is declared righteous. The Lord
imputes unto the believer the righteousness of Christ and pronounces him righteous
before the universe. He transfers his sins to Jesus, the sinner's representative,
substitute, and surety. Upon Christ He lays the iniquity of every soul that
believeth. "He hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we
might be made the righteousness of God in him" (2 Corinthians 5:21).39
"Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for
righteousness. Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace,
but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth
the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness" (Romans 4:3 5). Righteousness
is obedience to the law. The law demands righteousness, and this the sinner
owes to the law; but he is incapable of rendering it. The only way in which
he can attain to righteousness is through faith. By faith he can bring to God
the merits of Christ, and the Lord places the obedience of His Son to the sinner's
account. Christ's righteousness is accepted in place of man's failure, and God
receives, pardons, justifies, the repentant, believing soul, treats him as though
he were righteous, and loves him as He loves His Son. This is how faith is accounted
righteousness; and the pardoned soul goes on from grace to grace, from light
to a greater light.40
When God pardons the sinner, remits the punishment he deserves,
and treats him as though he had not sinned, He receives him into divine favor,
and justifies him through the merits of Christ's righteousness. The sinner can
be justified only through faith in the atonement made through God's dear Son,
who became a sacrifice for the sins of the guilty world. No one can be justified
by any works of his own. He can be delivered from the guilt of sin, from the
condemnation of the law, from the penalty of transgression, only by virtue of
the suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ. Faith is the only condition
upon which justification can be obtained, and faith includes not only belief
And, just to set the record straight regarding Brother Dale's
accusation that Ellen White didn't believe in the idea that Christ came to save
sinners, here's a quote from The Desire of Ages:
It is thus that every sinner may come to Christ. "Not
by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He
saved us." Titus 3:5. When Satan tells you that you are a sinner, and cannot
hope to receive blessing from God, tell him that Christ came into the world
to save sinners. We have nothing to recommend us to God; but the plea that we
may urge now and ever is our utterly helpless condition that makes His redeeming
power a necessity. Renouncing all self dependence, we may look to the cross
of Calvary and say,--
"In my hand no price I bring;
Simply to Thy cross I cling."42
For some reason, these quotes and numerous others like them,
never made it into CDSDA. Thus, Brother Dale's accusation that Ellen White didn't
believe in justification by faith alone is about as uniformed and wrong as his
claim that Antiochus is the little horn of Daniel 8.
One could write a book exposing the weakness of Brother Dale's attacks on Ellen
White. That's not my intention. The past few pages, I believe, have made my
point: his criticisms of her and her writings are of the same caliber as his
"biblical evaluation" of the pre-advent judgment. Again, in fairness
to Brother Ratzlaff, he got some of his views about Ellen White honestly, and
had he properly understood her and her inspiration, I doubt he'd be where he
Brother Dale makes another statement about her, the final one
I'm going to look at--though many more are worth scrutiny. In reference to Ellen
White having changed some of her beliefs over the years, he says, "To her
credit, unlike many 'prophets' of her day, her change in doctrine was usually
toward mainstream Christianity."43 Even Kenneth Richard
Samples, the Christian scholar who penned the foreword The Cultic Doctrine
of Seventh-day Adventists, writes, "In fact, Ellen G. White seemed
to play a significant role in helping the Adventist church move toward theological
These are fascinating admissions, fraught with conclusions
that Brother Dale doesn't work through. In his sentence he places quotes marks
around the word "prophets," the implication being that he questions
her prophetic ministry. Fair enough. But how many other modern day "prophets"
have moved their churches toward "mainstream Christianity," as Brother
Dale says Ellen White did? Has Sun Myung Moon, leader of the Unification Church?
Or Joseph Smith of the Mormons Or Mary Baker Eddy of Christian Science? Please!
All of these prophets, without equivocation or exception, have led their people
away from mainstream Christianity, because they all are false
prophets. And yet Brother Dale admits that Ellen White, one of these "prophets,"
moved the church toward the mainstream, or as Kenneth Samples says, toward "theological
orthodoxy." That's kind of a strange thing for someone to do, who (according
to Brother Dale) practiced deception, taught false doctrine, and wrote against
Ellen White made claims about her ministry that leave no room
for compromise or ambivalence about those claims. She claimed to have seen things
that could have come only from supernatural inspiration. Either her claims are
true or she was a lunatic and/or a powerful liar who promulgated her insane
ravings or amazing deceptions from the middle of the nineteenth into the second
decade of the twentieth century.
What rational options are there for someone who claimed to
have seen, in vision, what she claimed to have seen? She claimed to have seen
Jesus bring the redeemed into the holy city. She claimed to have seen people
living on other planets and angels protecting God's people. She claimed to have
seen, in vision, Jesus in the heavenly sanctuary or what Satan looked like in
heaven before he sinned. She claimed to have seen angels visiting Adam and Eve
in Eden. She said that she saw the look on Adam's face when he realized that
Eve had sinned. She claimed to have seen Jesus, in vision, and what His face
was like after the wilderness fast. She claimed to have seen the resurrection
of Jesus from the tomb, as well as an angel release Paul and Silas from prison.
She claimed to have seen Satan lead lost multitudes into the final rebellion
against God after the second resurrection. She claimed to have seen, in vision,
life in the new earth, and on and on . . .
What does one do with these claims? Those who place her ministry
on the level, for instance, of Martin Luther, are living in a logical fantasy
world. Either we take her for what she has claimed for herself (which, of course,
leaves open a whole group of questions that we, as a church, haven't always
answered in the most fortuitous manner), or we have to reject her as liar, a
lunatic, or someone inspired by the devil. These are the only logical
I have a friend, a former Adventist, who left the church over
Ellen White and who now believes she was of the devil. (He was the one who introduced
me to Brother Ratzlaff's book.) However much I disagree with His conclusion,
I respect his logic. Given what we know about the scope, length, and character
of her life and work, something supernatural has to be behind it. And if one
rejects her ministry as being from God, then who else but the devil?
Yet, interestingly enough, despite presenting quote after quote
from her pen of supposedly horrific, anti-biblical error, Brother Dale never
says that she was demonic (at least, I didn't see such a statement) even though
that's the only logical conclusion given the nature of his attack. Page after
page he rants about her false teaching, errors, and anti-gospel beliefs. So
why doesn't he simply say what should be obvious? After all, who but the devil
is going to use this woman to lead millions and millions astray with false,
anti-gospel doctrines that have no basis in the Bible, as Brother Dale believes
she has done?
Maybe, though, Brother Dale isn't ready to follow his conclusions
to the end because that conclusion doesn't fit all the facts that he's keenly
aware of. Is he really ready to claim that the woman who wrote The Desire
of Ages or Steps to Christ was of the devil? Having grown up in the
church, maybe he knows enough about her and her life to realize just how ludicrous
such a conclusion is.
However tempting to continue (there's so much more to refute),
I'll stop here and conclude.
Brother Dale's book is based on proving these few points:
1. That Ellen White endorsed all of Miller's theology.
He failed. The evidence, contrary to his claim, is clear that she didn't
endorse all of Miller's positions.
2. That the pre-advent judgment in 1844 is not biblical.
He failed here, too. Brother Dale will have to come up with something much more
persuasive than a bunch of arthritic Des Ford arguments before proving that
1844 isn't biblical.
3. That the pre-Advent judgment contradicts the gospel.
He failed here, even miserably. Indeed, only by understanding the judgment can
one fully understand the gospel.
4. That Ellen White's theology was contrary to the new covenant
teaching of salvation by faith alone. He failed, again. Her own words, quoted
a few pages earlier, prove just how badly he failed on this point.
Yet Brother Ratzlaff's failures are our own. I'm far from excusing
his actions, yet as a church we have failed to make some things--particularly
the gospel-centeredness of the judgment, as well as the role and nature of Ellen
White's ministry--as clear as they should be. We are now reaping the results.
The Cultic Doctrine of Seventh-day Adventists is a prime example.
That Brother Dale's book has greatly affected some among us,
and even turned them away from us, is a testimony, not to the power of his arguments
but to how poorly informed many Seventh-day Adventist are. His book will influence
those who, already angered, hurt, and disgruntled with the church, need an excuse
to leave it. However, others will (I believe) see past the paucity of arguments
and come through stronger in their faith than when they first confronted those
arguments--as I did. I was firmly convinced of the truth of our 1844 teaching
before I started writing Graffiti in the Holy of Holies. Now, having
finished, I'm more convinced than ever.
My hope and prayer is that those who finish Graffiti in
the Holy of Holies will have a similar experience. If so, my efforts are
more than rewarded.
1 Ellen White, Selected Messages, book 3, pp. 277,278.
2 Ellen White, Testimonies for the Curhch, vol. 4, pp. 635-637.
3 For a fuller treatment of the Reform Dress issue, see Francis Nichols, Ellen
White and Her Critics (Review and Herald; Takoma Park, Washington, DC) 1951
4 Walter T. Rea, The White Lie (Turlock, Calif.: M & R Publications,
5 Ellen White, Testimonies for the Church, vol.2, p. 400; Counsels on
Diet and Foods, pp. 203, 204.
6 Ellen White, Ministry of Healing, p. 302; Selected Messages, book
3, p. 287.
7 George Knight, Reading Ellen White (Review and Herald; Hagerstown, MD)
8 CDSDA, p. 106.
9 Ibid., Preface .
10 Ibid., p. 83.
11 Ibid., p. 235.
12 Ibid., p. 43.
13 Ibid., p. 44. "It should be noted here that EGW's endorsement of
Miller's conclusion came after 1844 when it should have been obvious that Miller
14 Ibid.,p. 93, n. 18.
15 Ellen White, Spiritual Gifts, vol. 1. p. 129, quoted in CDSDA,
16 Ibid., pp. 131, 132, quoted in CDSDA.
17 Ellen White, The Great Controversy, p. 22.
18 Ellen White, Early Writings, p. 74, quoted CDSDA, p. 84.
19 Ibid., Quoted in CDSDA.
20 Ellen White, A Word to the Little Flock, 1847.
21 CDSDA, p. 121.
22 Ellen White, Selected Messages, book 1, pp. 62-65.
23 Ellen White, Early Writings, p. 42.
24 Ibid., p. iv.
25 CDSDA, p. 318.
26 Ibid., p. 226.
28 Ibid., p. 321.
29 Ibid., p. 337.
30 Ibid., p. 321.
31 Ellen White, Manuscript Releases, vol. 3, pp. 420, 421 (Ms. 36, 1890).
32 Ellen White, Faith and Works, p. 20.
33 Ellen White, Selected Messages, book, 1, p. 351.
34 Ibid., p. 398.
35 Ellen White, A New Life, p. 26.
36 Ellen White, In Heavenly Places, p. 23.
37 Ellen White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 8, p. 125.
38 Ellen White, Faith and Works, pp. 99, 100.
39 Ellen White, Selected Messages, book 1, p. 392.
40 Ellen White, God's Amazing Grace, p. 265.
41 Ellen White, Selected Messages, book 1, p. 389.
42 Ellen White, The Desire of Ages, p. 317.
43 CDSDA, p. 351.
44 Ibid., Foreword .