Establishing the Church on Solid Ground
The influence of a prophet
Seventh-day Adventists are indebted to Ellen G. White (1827–1915) in many ways. Without her practical counsel and positive influence, the Seventh-day Adventist Church would doubtless be very different than what it is today. Let’s consider several of those contributions:
1Accepting the Bible as the final authority. Ellen White constantly uplifted the Bible as the final authority for all faith and practice. She once wrote: “Little heed is given to the Bible, and the Lord has given a lesser light to lead men and women to the greater light” (Colporteur Ministry, p. 125). Her deep appreciation of the Holy Scriptures and her trusting acceptance of all that is written therein has become a model for Seventh-day Adventists to become a “people of the book.” Our doctrines are based not on visions of Ellen White but on a deep study of the Word of God.
2Confirming biblical truth and guiding understanding of new light. Ellen White played a significant role in anchoring important biblical truth in the collective consciousness of Seventh-day Adventists. Through them Ellen White helped to deepen our love for Jesus Christ and for every human being who is lost without Him. Her passion for evangelism shaped Adventist spirituality from its inception to this very day.
3Understanding the great controversy between Christ and Satan. Her inspired insights into the plan of salvation and the great controversy between Satan and Christ have given Seventh-day Adventists a unique theological understanding of God’s salvation and the solution to the problem of sin. The attention she gave to the biblical-prophetical message, especially in the books of Daniel and Revelation, helped Adventists to gain a distinct theological perspective that has shaped our message and identity.
4Anchoring the central message of justification by faith. Without Ellen White the central message of justification by faith would not have succeeded and gained such a prominent place in our church. Her recognition and promotion of the truth in A. T. Jones’ and E. J. Waggoner’s emphasis on righteousness by faith at the 1888 General Conference session gave their messages great impetus.
5Presenting a wholistic health message and promoting a healthy lifestyle. In an age when daily meat consumption was typical for North Americans, Ellen White promoted a vegetarian diet and inspired a health food revolution that started with Dr. John Harvey Kellogg in his creation of cornflakes. Numerous innovative sanitariums were established to promote healthful living. Health and longevity studies from several countries indicate that Seventh-day Adventists on the average live seven to 12 years longer than the general population. No other Protestant church operates as many hospitals, medical centers, sanitariums, and health food industries as do Seventh-day Adventists.
6Promoting Christian education. Ellen White had a keen interest in education and promoted comprehensive concepts of Christian education. She also pointed out the significance of the home in early childhood education and gave valuable insights into pedagogical questions. Because of her influence Seventh-day Adventists support the largest Protestant educational system worldwide.
7Building a worldwide publishing ministry. Ellen White’s remarkable literary productivity1 and her counsels about the importance of the printed word have helped Seventh-day Adventists build a worldwide publishing ministry that promotes and distributes Christian literature and values, including Adventist Review (founded in 1849) and Adventist World (2005).
8 Establishing an effective worldwide organization and structure. Ellen White’s counsel has helped to establish an effective church organization and structure that enables the Seventh-day Adventist Church to maintain a worldwide mission currently in more than 200 countries.
A Church Without a Prophet
If I ponder the Seventh-day Adventist Church without the positive influence of Ellen White, I would not have to search long to come across a remarkable comparison: the Advent Christian Church. They are Sunday-observing Adventists who also trace their origins back to the Millerite movement. Shortly after the Great Disappointment in 1844 they had an estimated 30,000 to 50,000 followers. Today, they have about 75,000 members in 30 countries.
At our church’s organization in 1863 there were about 3,500 Seventh-day Adventists. Today we are more than 17 million members in more than 200 countries. One important difference between the two groups is this: the Advent Christians rejected Ellen White’s prophetic ministry.2
Ellen White’s Impact on Our Spiritual Experience
One of the most remarkable blessings the Seventh-day Adventist Church has received through the ministry of Ellen White is the positive impact she contributes to our personal and collective spiritual experience. Some years ago the North American Division conducted an extensive church growth survey. Part of the survey dealt with the question of whether church members who regularly read the writings of Ellen White differ significantly from those who seldom do. The answers from more than 8,200 Seventh-day Adventists reveal some fascinating results (see table):
In all 11 other categories, those who read Ellen White regularly ranked significantly higher than did nonreaders.3 White’s writings encourage personal Bible study, lead to a richer spiritual experience, deepen the personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and motivate to be active in mission.
Ellen White is no replacement for the Bible. To the contrary, she lifts up the Bible and helps us to take the Word of God seriously. Her ministry was God’s gift to the remnant church at the end of time. Hence the biblical word in 2 Chronicles 20:20 is still relevant today: “Believe in the Lord your God, so shall ye be established; believe his prophets, so shall ye prosper” (KJV).
1 Ellen White wrote more than 5,000 articles and 40 books and is considered the most widely translated American author.
2 James R. Nix, “The Light Still Shines,” devotional talk given during the Spring Meeting of the General Conference Committee, April 15, 2004.
3 Cf. Roger L. Dudley and Des Cummings, Jr., “Who Reads Ellen White?” Ministry, October 1982, pp. 10-12.
Frank M. Hasel, Ph.D., is dean of the Theological Seminary and director of the Ellen G. White Study Center at Seminar Schloss Bogenhofen in Austria.