One issue: “ There is quite a division in our church concerning the use of the long and the short towel in the ordinance of humility. Personally I am satisfied with the short towel; but especially with new members, there is confusion when some use one and some use the other. I would like to ask Which did Sister White herself use? Is there anything in her writings concerning this?” R. Shaffer to A. L. White, November 1, 1933.
W. C. White’s answer pointed out that Ellen White used whatever towels were provided and that it was his opinion that “she regarded such matters as of minor importance.” W. C. White to R. Shaffer, December 15, 1933. We must also ask the question—would it matter if she did prefer one type of towel over another?
Another issue: In 1906, Dr. David Paulson wrote to Ellen White: “ I was led to conclude and most firmly believe [from my early training] that every word that you ever spoke in public or private, that every letter you wrote under any and all circumstances, was as inspired as the ten commandments.” (Quoted by Ellen White in the Review and Herald , August 30, 1906.)
Did Ellen White’s call to prophetic ministry and her reception of prophetic revelations through visions mean that every word subsequently spoken or written by her was inspired? Obviously the answer is no. But this raises other questions: How do we know what is inspired and what is not? Who is to decide what is inspired and what is not?
Was Ellen White infallible? About this she was perfectly clear: “ In regard to infallibility, I never claimed it. God alone is infallible.” Letter 10, 1895.
Ellen White’s Inspiration “ Mother never made the claim, as some have said, that everything she ever wrote at any time was inspired. I told them that Mother, like every other prophet of God, had her own private life, and she spoke and wrote about matters of finance, about her household, her farm, her chickens, her horses, and her dairy, and that there was no claim that she was speaking regarding these matters with the voice of inspiration.” W. C. White to J. W. Watt, March 7, 1915 .
“ But there are times when common things must be stated, common thoughts must occupy the mind, common letters must be written and information given that has passed from one to another of the workers. Such words, such information, are not given under the special inspiration of the Spirit of God.” Selected Messages 1, 39 (The context of this statement is the exact number of rooms in the Paradise Valley Sanitarium.
In the previous statement Ellen White made a distinction between the sacred and the common, between that which is directly inspired by the Holy Spirit and that which is of common origin. Evidently not every word written or spoken by her on every occasion, was received by revelation.
The question is NOT whether a particular statement is inspired or not, whether it is of divine origin or of common source, nor whether it comes from God or from the writer. Instead we should understand what are the purpose, context, and function of that particular statement. The difference between “sacred” and “common” is not a matter of truth vs. error, but a difference in function.
How to we proceed? Accept the writings in their entirety as the messenger’s total testimony, but use the various parts according to the purposes for which they were given.
An Example: Admonitions given to specific people at specific times do not necessarily apply to everyone. However, just because a messages is directed to a specific person at a specific time does not mean that we can just ignore the counsel. “ If one is reproved for a special wrong, brethren and sisters should carefully examine themselves to see wherein they have failed and wherein they have been guilty of the same sin….In rebuking the wrongs of one, He designed to correct many.” Testimonies volume 2, 112.
“ I must ask myself why I read Ellen White’s writings. I need to be frank with myself as to my focus and motivation. Too often I find myself saying, ‘That is an excellent piece of advice for my wife or my pastor or my neighbour,’ when all the while God wants me to say in my heart, ‘That is just the counsel I need, since I am struggling in that area.’” George R. Knight, Reading Ellen White , 133.
Ellen White’s writings were misinterpreted during her lifetime “ Many men take the testimonies the Lord has given...picking out a sentence here and there, taking it from its proper connection, and applying it according to their idea. Thus poor souls become bewildered, when could they read in order all that has been given, they would see the true application, and would not become confused. Much that purports to be a message from Sister White, serves the purpose of misrepresenting Sister White. Selected Messages 1:44
“ Those who are not walking in the light of the message, may gather up statements from my writings that happen to please them, and that agree with their human judgment, and, by separating these statements from their connection, and placing them beside human reasoning, make it appear that my writings uphold that which they condemn. I charge you not to do this work. To use my writings thus...is misleading and inconsistent.” Letter 208, June 29, 1906
Rules of Interpretation: Rule #1: Study all the applicable counsels before drawing your conclusions. Rule #2: The time, place, and circumstances of the giving of certain messages should be considered. Rule #3: One should try to discover the principle involved in any specific counsel.
First rule: Study all the applicable counsels before drawing your conclusions
SOME EXAMPLES: Eggs anyone? In a sermon in the Battle Creek Tabernacle on March 6, 1869, Ellen White raised the question of inconsistency in the practice of health reform in relationship to daily Christian living. “ You place upon your table butter, eggs, and meat, and your children partake of them,...and then you come to meeting and ask God to bless and save your children. How high do [you think] your prayers go?” Testimonies 2:362
That same year (1869) she also wrote a letter to a “Brother and Sister E.” In a simple sentence she stated flatly: “ Eggs should not be placed upon your table.” Why? “ They are an injury to your children” 2 Testimonies 400
“ In some cases the use of eggs is beneficial” 7 Testimonies 135 “ In some cases of persons whose blood- making organs are feeble...milk and eggs should not be wholly discarded.” Ministry of Healing 320
“ While warnings have been given...yet we should not consider it a violation of principle to use eggs from hens that are well cared for and suitably fed. Eggs contain properties that are remedial agencies in counteracting certain poisons” in the body. 9 Testimonies 162
One example of extremism happened in the life of Dr. Daniel Kress who became anemic from his abstinence of all animal products without a proper wholesome diet in replacement. Ellen White recommended that he change his eating habits and eat a raw egg in a glass of grape juice two or three times a day in order to receive “the nourishment that he greatly needed.” Letter 37, 1904.
Second Rule The time, place, and circumstances of the giving of the message should be considered.
1875: “That which can be said of men under certain circumstances cannot be said of them under other circumstances.” 3 Testimonies 470 1904: “God wants us all to have common sense, and He wants us to reason from common sense. Circumstances alter conditions. Circumstances change the relation of things.” 3 Selected Messages 217
Riding a bicycle 1894: “There seemed to be a bicycle craze. Money was spent to gratify an enthusiasm....A bewitching influence seemed to be passing as a wave over our people there....Satan works with intensity of purpose to induce our people to invest their time and money in gratifying supposed wants. This is a species of idolatry....There were some who were striving for the mastery, each trying to excel the other in the swift running of their bicycles. 8 Testimonies 51-52
Understanding the context of the time when Ellen White made this comment is crucial to properly understand her thought. This fad of buying bicycles showed: (a) poor stewardship of time and money, and (b) gave rise to excessive competition—keeping up with the neighbours—covetousness.
“ Toward the end of the last century the American people were swept with a consuming passion which left them with little time or money for anything else....What was this big new distraction? For an answer the merchants had only to look out the window and watch their erstwhile customers go whizzing by. America had discovered the bicycle, and everybody was making the most of the new freedom it brought....The bicycle began as a rich man’s toy. Society and celebrity went awheel....The best early bicycle cost $150, an investment comparable to the cost of an automobile today....Every member of the family wanted a ‘wheel,’ and entire family savings often were used up on supplying the demand.” Frank Tripp, “When All the World Went Wheeling,” The Readers’ Digest , December 1951, pp. 121-23.
1911: “Regarding the testimonies [of Ellen G. White], nothing is ignored; nothing is cast aside; but time and place must be considered.” 1 Selected Messages 57
Third rule One should try to discover the principle involved in any specific counsel, and its applications.
Eternal and universal principles are applied to particular contextual situations through specific counsels. Applications of principles may change as the circumstances which call them forth change.
Driving and harnessing a horse In 1903, Ellen White wrote this counsel to young women: Girls who “could learn to harness and drive a horse...would be better fitted to meet the emergencies of life.” Education 216-217
What shall we do with this counsel and how shall we understand it in our modern society? Is it imperative that our Seventh-day Adventist schools teach a girl how to harness and drive a horse?
Internal Context: Ellen White is urging girls, as well as boys, to obtain a practical education (the principle), in order to be better fitted to meet life’s emergency situations. External Context: Rural communities of 1903.
Application today: Learn important skills that every one needs to cope with life. Basic car mechanics and maintenance….
“ Since both men and women have a part in home-making, boys as well as girls should gain a knowledge of household duties. To make a bed and put a room in order, to wash dishes, to prepare a meal, to wash and repair his own clothing, is a training that need not make any boy less manly; it will make him happier and more useful. And if girls, in turn, could learn to harness and drive a horse, and to use the saw and the hammer, as well as to rake and the hoe, they would be better fitted to meet the emergencies of life.” Education 216-217
Three simple rules : 1. Take into consideration all that has been written on the subject before drawing any conclusions. 2. Consider the context: the time, the situation, and the circumstances. 3. Look for the principles behind the specific counsels.
This PowerPoint includes material taken from PowerPoints developed by Denis Fortin and available at: http://www.andrews.edu/~fortind/EGWSacred-CommonSydney2006-02.ppt and: http:// www.andrews.edu/~fortind/EGWScripture.ppt It also uses information from: George R. Knight, Reading Ellen White , Hagerstown: Review and Herald, 1997. This PowerPoint presentation has been produced by Jeff Crocombe. It should not be used without giving credit to its compiler, nor reproduced in any way without permission. You may contact Jeff Crocombe at: [email_address]