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Sabbath School for a New Generation

Among Seventh Day Adventists, Sabbath School is a time for discussion and learning. It is the belief of this site that Sabbath School should be an exciting venue for the discussion of new ideas, instead of rehashing old arguments. So welcome to a virtual Sabbath School, a Sabbath School for a new generation.

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I am an Electrical Engineer, working at Intel in the Portland area. I received my undergraduate degree from Walla Walla College and graduate degrees from the University of Southern California. The views expressed on this website are my own and do not reflect the viewpoints of anybody else. I reserve the right to change my mind at any point in time.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Ellen White: Who needs her?

I saw a post awhile back on Adventist Pulpit about the disappearance of Ellen White. It is something that I have noticed as well. And it has taking awhile before I finally decided how I would respond. He starts out

One Sabbath school teacher stated that: “We use Ellen G. White too much almost deifying her!” One might also hear: Or “Adventists must overcome their legalism!” I think it interesting that we accept these assumptions without critically looking at them. Such sentiments are often never challenged.

I think this statement may have been true at some point. But now, the pendulum has swung and in most churches she is rarely mentioned.

What if our basic assumptions are wrong? What if lawlessness is at least as big a problem as legalism in the church today? What if it is not that we use Ellen White too much, but hardly at all? What if instead of “worshipping her” as we are charged with we ignore her?

I doubt you will go to many churches tomorrow and hear Ellen White quoted more than the Bible. In fact you might hear Billy Graham or Martin Luther quoted more than Ellen White. I think it interesting that some think that Ellen White is deified in the church while at the same time we hear her less. Is the prophet disappearing or have I just attended the few churches that seem to downplay her?

What do you think?

Now here is what I think. First of all, as Christians, I think we have funny ideas about prophets and prophecy. Somehow we got this idea that prophecy is about the future. However if you look through the prophets in the Old Testement most of them are talking about the present. And even when they are talking about the future it is firmly related to the present and issues of the day. They are calling Isreal to a higher standard. If you look through Ellen White's writings she is calling the church to wake up and realize the importance of its mission. She is calling us to a higher standard. It makes us uncomfortable and we don't like it. Of course neither did Isreal. The prophets weren't the most popular bunch around.

Our second funny idea is that prophets never make mistakes. Of course this is based on Biblical texts that were written to guard us against following false prophets. Usually the Biblical example of a mistake that I use is the story of David and the prophet Nathan, who had to backtrack after telling David to build the temple (2 Samuel 7). Ellen White used external sources without properly acknowledging them. To put it bluntly, she plagiarized. She wasn't an academic and she only completed a few years of formal education, so I don't hold it against her. She made mistakes.

Our third funny idea is that prophets are respected members of the community. Check out Ezekial 4. Laying on one side for over three hundred days, the other side for fourty and during this time eating bread baked on human excrement. Not exactly sane behavior. This sort of behavior is like the environmentalists that tie themselves to trees to prevent logging of forests. It is generally frowned upon by comfortable church members. In many ways, Ellen White was a radical as well. She believed in functional dress that looked quite strange and was very unfashionable (A skirt with loose pants underneath). Many of her ideas about health were also on the cutting edge at her time.

We as a church almost deified her (which she wouldn't have appreciated) and now we ignore her. I have noticed that in my Collegiate Sabbath School, many of my kids know very little about Ellen White. It is sad, if for no other reason, she was the most influential founder of our church. So by ignoring Ellen White, we are ignoring our history. Without our history, the beliefs of our church make little sense. It is like the Luthurans deciding they should never talk about Martin Luther or the Methodists sweeping aside the Wesleys. So who needs Ellen White? Seventh Day Adventists everywhere do.

Alden Thompson has written a couple of books about Ellen White, Inspiration, which I have read and Escape from the Flames, which I have not had a chance to read. These books treat her in a very positive light. I also found Ronald Numbers book, Prophetess of Heath, to be quite informative. It comes from a more neutral perspective, although later editions include a more negative slant on her life in an afterword.


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