Presentation on theme: "The Achilles’ Heel of Adventism Should a Prophet Tell Me What to Think? Denis Fortin The Writings of Ellen G. White."— Presentation transcript:
The Achilles’ Heel of Adventism Should a Prophet Tell Me What to Think? Denis Fortin The Writings of Ellen G. White
Achilles’ Heel The concept of authority has become one of the most controversial notions of modern times. Just as much as authority in society is being challenged, the authority of Scripture is also challenged.
How about the authority of Ellen White and her writings? What shall we do with Ellen White’s ministry through her writings? Should we continue to give her writings the authority we have given them in the past? Or should we limit her authority? In fact, does she have any authority?
Challenge to Ellen White’s authority Her authority in areas of spiritual discernment and homiletical application of Scripture is not usually challenged. The challenges to her authority are largely in the area of doctrinal authority.
What is authority? Bernard Ramm defines authority as "that right or power to command action or compliance, or to determine belief or custom, expecting obedience from those under authority, and in turn giving responsible account for the claim to right or power." (The Pattern of Authority, p. 10)
Kinds of authority Imperial authority Delegated authority Veracious authority (authority of truth) Functional authority Authority of custom
Authority in religion Bernard Ramm comments, "When one turns to the question of authority in religion the basic problem immediately arises: is there anything in religion which demands that a man think a certain way about religion and not another? Is there a man, a society, a principle, or a document which has the right to prescribe religious belief?”
Authority in religion "Nothing could be more foolish in religion than the rejection of an authority which contained the truth of the living God; and nothing could be more tragic than the substitution of the voice of man for the voice of God." (Pattern of Authority, p. 16)
Authority of God God is the supreme and absolute authority in the universe. His authority is intimately related to the revelation of himself. He revealed himself to prophets. Prophets were his spokespersons in spoken and written word.
Authority of Scripture Word of God spoken and written by prophets has both veracious and delegated authority. Thus, to disbelieve the prophetic utterance of the prophet is to disbelieve God.
Authority of Scripture 2 Peter 1:19-21 : “And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”
Authority of Scripture Ramm concludes, “The Bible is not the authority for the Christian because it was written by religious geniuses. Nor is it the Christian's authority because it has been pragmatically verified through the centuries, nor because it inspires great religious experience. The Bible is binding upon the Christian because it is part of the organism of divine revelation. It is authoritative because it shares in revelation. It is a divine revelation in written form in various literary genres. (Continued)
Authority of Scripture "The Bible is authoritative because it is the Word of God.... Through the Holy Spirit it possesses delegated imperial authority and veracious authority in all matters in which it intends to teach. All other reasons for giving the Bible the supreme role in religious authority are defective. The content of the Bible is given by the double action of special revelation and divine inspiration, and therefore it is for the Christian the revealed word of God." (Pattern of Authority, p. 38)
Authority of Ellen White’s writings Seventh-day Adventists claim that Ellen White was inspired to the same extent as were Bible writers. Yet, we view her prophetic ministry as similar to that of non-canonical prophets and that the Bible is our rule of faith and practice.
Ellen White Exalted the Bible “The truth of God is found in His word. Those who feel that they must seek elsewhere for present truth need to be converted anew. They have wrong habits to mend, evil ways to be abandoned. They need to seek anew the truth as it is in Jesus, that their character building may be in harmony with the lessons of Christ.” (8T 192)
A Proper Relationship “Brother J would confuse the mind by seeking to make it appear that the light God has given through the Testimonies [i.e., Ellen White’s writings] is an addition to the word of God, but in this he presents the matter in a false light. God has seen fit in this manner to bring the minds of His people to His word, to give them a clearer understanding of it.” (4T 246)
Ellen White’s perception of her authority “During the night season I was specially moved upon by the Spirit of God. My soul had been drawn out in earnest supplication to God. I was distressed on account of the backsliding of His people. While lying in bed, unable to sleep because of the burden resting upon me, I was pleading with the Lord. I fell asleep, and in the night season I was taught of God. (continued)
Ellen White’s perception of her authority “My guide said, "I have a work for you to do. You must speak the words given you by the Lord. After these words have been spoken, your duty here is done. You are not required to enter into details before individuals, whatever may be their position or work, if they do not recognize the voice of God in the message He gives you to bear in His name. (continued)
Ellen White’s perception of her authority “All your efforts to remove their doubts will be of no avail if they gather the clouds of darkness about their souls. If you enter into particulars, you weaken the message. It is not you speaking, but the Lord speaking through you. Those who want to know the will of God, who do not desire to follow their own will and judgment, will be easily entreated. They will be ready to discern the right way. (continued)
Ellen White’s perception of her authority “The whys and wherefores are concealed from you; yet speak the words I give you, however painful it may be to you. The ways in which God leads His people are generally mysterious. You have asked to know God's way. Your supplication has been answered. God knows better than you do what is good and essential for His children. (continued)
Ellen White’s perception of her authority “He never leads them otherwise than they would wish to be led, if they were able to see as clearly as He does what they must do to establish characters that will fit them for the heavenly courts.... You are to act your part, and then leave the rest to God. (continued)
Ellen White’s perception of her authority “You will have startling, surprising messages to bear, but if those who hear cannot see the import of these messages, explanations from you will not lead them to understand any more clearly. They have ears, but they hear not. Satan takes control of their unsanctified reason, and leads them to misunderstand and misapply.” (Ms 29, 1900; in UL 339)
Ellen White’s writings Conflict of the Ages series: "Sister White is not the originator of these books. They contain the instruction that during her lifework God has been giving her. They contain the precious, comforting light that God has graciously given His servant to be given to the world." (CM 125)
Ellen White’s writings Periodical articles: "I do not write one article in the paper expressing merely my own ideas. They are what God has opened before me in vision--the precious rays of light shining from the throne." (5T 67)
Ellen White’s writings Testimonies: "Those who carefully read the testimonies as they have appeared from the early days, need not be perplexed as to their origin. The many books, written by the help of the Spirit of God, bear a living witness to the character of the testimonies." (Letter 225, 1906 in 1SM 49)
Ellen White’s writings Unpublished letters (testimonies): "Weak and trembling, I arose at three o'clock in the morning to write to you. God was speaking through clay. You may say that this communication was only a letter. Yes, it was a letter, but prompted by the Spirit of God, to bring before your minds things that had been shown me. In these letters which I write, in the testimonies I bear, I am presenting to you that which the Lord has presented to me." (5T 67)
Prophets are human... Used fallible and imperfect modes of communication Influenced by culture and personal subjectivity Limited in their knowledge Their influence upon people and events is limited
... but have a supernatural work Sometimes supernatural phenomena accompany their visions Given supernatural knowledge of past, current, and future events Given supernatural understanding of issues related to events and people Their writings are inspired
So what about her authority? If we claim that Ellen White was inspired and that her writings bear the imprint of God than we must conclude that her writings are authoritative; that, although secondary to Scripture, they are an authoritative source of guidance, instruction, and correction for the church. But what kind of guidance and instruction do they provide for the Adventist church?
So what about her authority? Ellen White’s writings provide authoritative guidance in the following areas: Spiritual life and growth Pastoral life and activities Doctrinal insights Theological focus and context
Spiritual Guidance Ellen White’s writings have provided our church with spiritual guidance. She emphasized our need for a close walk with God, of regular Bible study, of witnessing for Christ, of living a genuinely committed Christian life.
Pastoral Guidance Ellen White’s ministry has provided pastoral guidance to the whole church. Her writings have provided Guidance to church leaders and pastors Guidance for the establishment and activities of church institutions Focus for the mission of the church
Doctrinal Insights Beyond the spiritual and pastoral guidance and correction provided by the writings of Ellen G. White, her writings also provide doctrinal guidance valid applications of biblical teachings interconnectedness of biblical doctrines steering Adventists away from errors of interpretation
Doctrinal Guidance Ellen White showed doctrinal authority when the church was confronted with difficult doctrinal issues Centrality of Christ’s death on Calvary Kellogg’s teachings on pantheism Ballenger’s teachings on the sanctuary Importance of healthful living
Doctrinal Guidance But in some other areas Ellen White refused to be the arbiter of biblical truth and asked people to study the Bible to find the answers Law in Galatians “Daily” of Daniel 8 Shut door of salvation
Theological Focus Perhaps more crucial to Adventism is how Ellen White’s writings have provided the church with theological guidance, with interpretative themes and motifs for a proper understanding of God’s revelation.
Theological Focus Major themes: Great controversy between good and evil Love of God for humanity Salvation in Jesus Primacy of Scripture Second coming of Christ Christian living and character development
Theological Guidance Ellen White’s theological themes provide Adventism and Christianity with theological presuppositions and assumptions (like a pair of eye glasses) with which to study Scripture and understand its meaning for our lives today as we wait for Christ’s second coming.
The Future of Adventism For the last 150 years, Ellen White’s ministry and writings have given spiritual, pastoral, doctrinal, and theological guidance to Adventism.
The Future of Adventism Who we are and what we do today is largely the result of her ministry and guidance. Who we will be in the future depends to a large extent on what level of guidance and authority we will still allow her writings to provide.