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Searching Sabbath 18: The Gift of Prophecy

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I think for the last few weeks I’ve been forgetting to put the actual text of the belief statement in these blog posts where I’m discussing my church’s beliefs, but this is probably the most controversial one of all so in addition to reading it in the video above, I’m pasting the full text of the statement here:

One of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is prophecy. This gift is an identifying mark of the remnant church and was manifested in the ministry of Ellen G. White. As the Lord’s messenger, her writings are a continuing and authoritative source of truth which provide for the church comfort, guidance, instruction, and correction. They also make clear that the Bible is the standard by which all teaching and experience must be tested.

As I say in the video, there’s no doubt that this is a highly controversial doctrine – that the spiritual gift of prophecy, given to people in Biblical times, was given in more modern times to a specific 19th-century American woman, Ellen White, who as a result of her visions and insights became one of the founders of the Seventh-day Adventist church. It’s a deal-breaker for a lot of people who are otherwise attracted to and interested in the Adventist message, and it’s one factor that makes some other Christians view Adventists as more of a cult than a genuine Christian church. How you treat the writings of Ellen White has also become somewhat of a shibboleth within the church itself, with her works often being used as a rallying point for conservatives while being seriously questioned or (occasionally) outright rejected by more liberal Adventists.

So, how to approach this difficult topic?

My video above explains how I like to look at Ellen White and put her work in context of other writers and thinkers that people have called “inspired” (or, capital-I, “Inspired”). But even though I went on for seven minutes, used my classroom whiteboard AND had visual aids, I still only scratched the surface of what there is to be said on the subject. A couple of quick points that I didn’t get to reference in the video:

  • While Ellen White was certainly a founder of the SDA church, she was not, as some people believe, the founder, nor is Adventism based solely on her teachings. The relationship is much more complicated than the relationship of, say, Mary Baker Eddy to Christian Science, or, as I pointed out in the video, Joseph Smith to the Latter-Day Saints. Early Adventists were very much a community who believed in studying the Bible, discussing things through and arguing when necessary. While there were certainly times that Mrs. White’s visions (or “visions” if you have difficulty believing that visions from God can be a real thing, as some do) gave essential guidance, early Adventists were very aware of the need to ground all their teachings in the Bible.
  • Official Adventist teaching is very insistent that Mrs. White’s writings are not to be treated as equal with the Bible, but Adventist practice does not always conform to this (I did touch on this a little in the video). Generally the more conservative the Adventist individual or community, the more likely he/she/they will be to quote and use Mrs. White’s writings as if they were Scripture. I was just reading my daughter’s teen Sabbath School lesson with her this evening when an example of this jumped out. Because of a decision-making process about which I as a parent am not terribly happy, my local SDA church does not use the official church program materials for children and youth, but uses another curriculum developed by a more conservative faction within the church. This quarterly I was reading to my daughter was telling the story of the fall of Judah to the Babylonians, complete with plentiful Scripture references, when suddenly it inserted a lengthy description of how the priests in the Temple hid the Ark of the Covenant in a cave so that it would not fall into Babylonian hands, and God preserved and protected it to this day! I pointed out to my kids that there was no Scripture reference for this because the Bible makes no reference to what happened to the Ark, and that this description was drawn from Mrs. White’s book Prophets and Kings. (Mrs. White herself may have been drawing on a tradition whose roots are in 2 Maccabees: Adventists, like most Protestants, count  Maccabees as part of the Apocrypha and thus not divinely inspired Scripture, but Mrs. White was influenced by a wide range of religious texts and has taken a lot of criticism for not citing her sources, even in cases where she copied word-for-word from other writers). Typical of this curriculum material my church is using in the children’s classes, my daughter’s quarterly did not make a distinction between what’s in the Bible and what’s in Ellen White, which troubles me. This would be much less likely, however, in a curriculum that was produced and approved by an official church department, particularly in recent times as the church is keenly aware of the need to clarify our position that Mrs. White’s writings are not equal to Scripture.
  • Despite this important distinction, there are a few Adventist teachings that are quite difficult to support from Scripture alone without reading the Bible through the interpretive lens of Ellen White’s writings and other traditional Adventist teaching. In this, I think, we are very little different from other Christian churches, including others that, like us, claim to base our teaching on “sola Scriptura” and “let the Bible be its own interpreter.” In practice, this is very hard to do and we all read the Bible with a particular set of interpretive lenses on. In the case of most Adventists, those lenses were generally designed and tinted by Ellen White, because she had such a formative influence on how we read Scripture.
  • You’ll notice that in this blog and vlog I haven’t talked much about the Scriptural foundation for this teaching, partly because my mandate throughout this series is to explore my own responses and reactions rather than to rehash a Bible study, but also specifically in this case because it is by definition hard to talk about what the Bible says about the role of a writer and religious leader who lived 1800 years after the Bible was written. The rest of the discussion in Seventh-day Adventists Believe about Fundamental Belief #18 does talk quite a bit about what the Bible says about prophets and how to apply this to would-be modern prophets, but any specific application to Ellen White or to her writings must of necessity be extra-biblical. 

With all those extra points in place to support the rather important basic point I made in the video — about where we place Ellen White in the context of other writers we might consider “inspired” — I’d love to hear other people’s opinions. Adventist? Former Adventist? Non-Adventist reader of my blog who now thinks Adventists are MUCH STRANGER than you thought we were before? Let me know what you think.

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12 thoughts on “Searching Sabbath 18: The Gift of Prophecy

  1. Ellen White’s writings helped plant the seed of doubt in my mind. Issues with her teachings grew and allowed me to question other parts of my faith. She evidently read a lot of books and freely incorporated many ideas of the time into her “inspired” beliefs and writings. Read any part of “A solemn appeal relative to solitary vice, and the abuses and excesses of the marriage relation” and it’s very clear that she is just parroting nonsense of that less-educated time! For example, E.G. White: It’s twice as bad to have sex with your pregnant wife because it steals her “vital energy” and “sensualizes” her baby! Or, down pillows and comforters contribute to your child’s desire to “self abuse” and shouldn’t be tolerated! After a long mental struggle I realized something simple, if we, as Adventists, have meaningful controversy over Ellen White’s inspired teachings (when she was alive less than 100 years ago, wrote in English, and her culture close to ours) how can we or any normal person EVER expect to gain the correct understanding of the Bible? The very nature of its origin and journey to us in its current form allows for many, many more avenues of misunderstanding! Why should we believe the Bible is inspired at all? It was that point that I decided to research core assumptions about my faith. I tried my best to read and research with an objective point of view, which is difficult when your entire life up to that point revolves around the Church. Present-day, I am thankful to Ellen White, not for any of the traditional Adventist reasons, but because her writings encouraged me to drop religion entirely.

    • That’s an unusual kind of “testimony,” SDA, but I”m a big believer in the fact that everyone needs to travel their own path and be intellectually as well as emotionally honest with themselves. If your critical thinking skills led you away from the Adventist church and eventually from faith altogether, then it would have been a mistake to stay and try to believe something you couldn’t. Of course I also believe God loves and speaks to atheists but I realize that doesn’t fit with your belief system (or non-belief system). But I do think many people who have made the move from religion to atheism have at least gone through the hard work of being honest with themselves about what they believe, while there are many people still going to church who refuse to do that. And I think it’s only possible to live a healthy life from a place of honesty (I also think it’s only possible for God to work in our lives if we’re living honestly).

      I will resist the urge to say that I will pray for you. Not only because I know that irritates atheists, but because I know that, trying to be honest with myself, I often tell people I’m praying for them and then forget to do so.

  2. Hi Trudy,

    I certainly appreciate your attempt to make sense of the 17th Fundamental Belief. There are a few things I notice about your presentation.

    1) Your intent was to help people understand what the statement meant in simple language.
    2) It seems that you have skills as an educator. The graphics were helpful in getting your point across.
    3) There is a certain passion about you that comes through as sincere and transparent.
    4) You are organized and logical in your approach
    5) You seem well informed about the subject. If fact, you come across as one who has read extensively on the subject from various perspectives.

    Unfortunately, your conclusions raise a series of questions:

    1) The most obvious one: What is a trusted definition of inspiration? What does the Bible say about inspiration? What is the Greek word for inspiration and what would it mean to the 1st century reader?

    2) Where did you get the idea that there is such thing as levels of inspiration? How many levels are there? What criteria is there to determine one level from the next? Who sets this criteria? Did you get this idea of “levels of inspiration” from the Scriptures?

    3) Assuming that your idea of levels of inspiration is correct, are we to infer that the Spirit inspires people within these levels of inspiration? You seem to assume that those who are included in the Canon of Scripture are “Inspired” (with capital “I”) and other are only “inspired” with lower case “i”? Is it that the Spirit only “inspires” (with lower case “i”) those outside of the Canon? How about those who are mentioned in the Scriptures as prophets? Are these “unknown” prophets assumed to be only “inspired” (with lower case “i”), therefore, not “Inspired” enough to get into the Canon?

    4) How about the instances in which so-called “Inspired” canonical writers use “uninspired” sources? Are they still “Inspired”? A prime example is Jude v. 9 (Jewish Testament of Moses) and v. 15 (Jewish First Book of Enoch), should this disqualified Jude from being “Inspired”? How about Luke who never received a vision, but did research and compilations work, yet he was included in the Canon of “Inspired” writers? Were you aware that Daniel is not included in the section of the Prophets of the Jewish Canon, instead, he was placed with in the section of the Writings because it might have been assumed that dreams don’t count as prophecy? It is interesting that in the Christian Canon Daniel is considered a legitimate prophet.

    5) One last question: Is it possible for the Spirit to choose to give His best quality of “Inspiration” to a few Canonical writers and choose to offer a less valuable “inspiration” to others such as Ellen White? Is it possible that, perhaps, other spirits are involved in confusing the legitimate inspiration of the Spirit of God?

    Indeed, your posting has raised more questions in an honest attempt to answer the value and authority of Ellen White as a prophet, or shall we say, as lesser prophet? Is that even Biblical?

    There are more questions to be asked? Particularly, your understanding of Canonical inspiration which assumes that it is different from Ellen White? We agree that Ellen White is not a Canonical writer; how could she be since she did not live when the Canon was being formed? Does that timeline affect the “Inspiration” or “inspiration” of the Spirit of God?

    I am really interested in learning from you how you came up with this distinction and where it can be found in the Scriptures?

    Thank you for your attempt to explain 17th Fundamental Belief. It might interest you to know that there is a reason for the order in which they appear. The nature of God and man, the nature of the Bible’s Inspiration and other doctrines are intimately linked with the Gift of Prophecy. In fact, Fundamental Belief 16 serves as a preamble for 17.

    If you read the book prayerfully, and the Bible with reverence and humility regarding this subject, perhaps, the same Spirit that inspired it, will reveal to you God’s truth in this matter. The Scriptures give testimony of the fact that it is the Spirit that leads to truth. It only makes sense to trust God’s Spirit, not our own assumptions to guide our understanding of God’s Word, the Bread of Life we need dearly.

    Blessings,

    Victor 🙂

    • Victor, I think you are right that my summary of Fundamental Belief 18 (as it is now numbered since the new statement of belief was added as #11) raises more questions than it answers. My purpose here was not primarily to explain this belief to others (although there will always have to be some element of doing that) but, as in this whole series of videos and blogs on the fundamental beliefs, to explore my own understandings of the church’s doctrines, and my own questions/doubts about them. I’m quite happy if a video raises more questions than it answers and I hope to provoke discussion.

      You’re quite correct that the key issue at the centre of my discussion is how we define the word “inspiration.” My distinction between canonical and non-canonical (or “big I” and “small i”) inspiration is NOT drawn from anything in Scripture; I don’t think this distinction is made at all within the pages of Scripture. In fact, I think the Scriptures barely touch on the subject of their own writers’ inspiration, much less the degree to which any writers not included in the canon may or may not be inspired (of course, the whole concept of “canon” didn’t exist while most of the Bible was being written). There certainly are people described in the Bible (e.g. the prophets who did not write books, as you correctly identify) who are described as having the Spirit of God in them or upon them, but we do not have so-called “inspired” writings from these people.

      My distinction of two types of inspiration was meant to be descriptive not prescriptive — i.e., as Christians, this is the way we treat and talk about the works of various writers — and to place different SDA attitudes to Mrs. White within that framework. But I am trying to describe what I see in practice, not prescribe how others should understand the concept of Inspiration.

      As you can see if you watch last week’s video, I’m quite aware of the overall framework of how the 28 Fundamentals are structured; in fact, I made the point in the previous video that I think the belief statement about spiritual gifts (#17 as they are currently numbered) is only in there to pave the way for this one about the gift of prophecy.

      As for “trust[ing] God’s Spirit, not our own assumptions” this has always been an idea that sounds better to me in theory than it works in practice, as I’ve always been amazed by how different groups of Christians all claiming to be guided by God’s Spirit can come up with entirely different conclusions. I think suggesting that I go back and reread “Seventh-day Adventists Believe …” and the Bible “prayerfully” and “with reverence and humility” and the truth will be revealed to me, is first, a tiny bit patronizing (I’ve been wrestling with the Bible and with Adventist beliefs for most of 48 years now, and a lot of prayer has been involved, as well as, I hope, some humility and reverence), and secondly, doesn’t really contribute to the discussion. What I’d like to know is YOUR answer to the question “what is inspiration?” and an overview of what you’re basing that answer on. My whole purpose in making this blog/video series is to explore my own questions and listen to other people’s questions and answers. Your questions make a very valuable contribution to my thinking, but I’d like to know what your answers are. Don’t just tell me to study and pray more — I do those things all the time anyway — tell me what conclusions you have reached to these admittedly very complex questions, so that I can explore your point of view further.

  3. Hi Trudy,

    I am pleased with the tone of your cordial reply. It must be noted that nothing in my previous comment was meant to treat you with an apparent kindness that betrays a feeling of superiority –patronizing. Rather, it was meant as encouragement in approaching Holy Scriptures with an attitude that gives glory to God for His revelation. It is always good to encourage one another in the Lord. My words are sincere and with the intent to promote healthy and honest discussion leading to the salvation of precious souls.

    The subject you are tackling is huge in its ramifications but it can be much simple if we deal with essentials. Matters complicate as I read your most recent reply as new and personal concerns are introduced. In the words of Dr. Martin Luther, whom you mention in your presentation:

    “Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason – I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other – my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.”

    As Seventh-day Adventist Christians, we accept the Bible to be (Fundamental Belief #1) the written Word of God, given by divine inspiration through holy men of God who spoke and wrote as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. In this Word, God has committed to man the knowledge necessary for salvation. The Holy Scriptures are the infallible revelation of His will. They are the standard of character, the test of experience, the authoritative revealer of doctrines, and the trustworthy record of God’s acts in history. (2 Peter 1:20, 21; 2 Tim. 3:16, 17; Ps. 119:105; Prov. 30:5, 6; Isa. 8:20; John 17:17; 1 Thess. 2:13; Heb. 4:12.)

    Any thinking we do outside of the teaching of Scripture may lead to misinterpretation and may wreck havoc in our view of God. As we humble our hearts and allow the the Spirit to renew our minds and shape it into the mind of Christ, we will be given understanding as the angel Gabriel did for the prophet Daniel.

    Here is the status quo of our society from the point of view of the Scriptures; the Reformers made the same point:

    1) OUR HEARTS AND MINDS CANNOT BE TRUSTED. Jeremiah 17:9 (NEB) teaches that our hearts are “more deceitful than all else and desperately sick.” We are a depraved race; we “do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked” We are admonished to “buy from [God] gold refined in the fire, so [we]can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so [we]can cover [our] shameful nakedness; and salve to put on [our] eyes, so [we]can see. (Revelation 3:17-18, NIV) We live in a state of depravity. Even though we have given our lives to Christ, we may still fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23) Our thinking cannot be trusted outside the Bible because we live in a world of sin.

    2) THE SPIRIT LEADS TO ALL TRUTH. The Gospel of John16:13 teaches that “..the Spirit of truth… will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.” It is clear that there is only one interpretation of the Scripture, the one that the Spirit reveals to us as we humble our sick hearts to Him. If all current interpretations of the Scriptures are from the Spirit, then we would have to conclude that the Spirit is faulty. Yet, the text says that the Spirit does not speak His own words but what He hears from the Godhead. This ensures that when He guides us into truth, we will be hearing the authentic message of God as it comes through the imperfect medium of faulty human writing. This explains why there are so many interpretations of the Scripture and the plethora of religious denominations. In fact, the division among Christians is due to the fact that we are not united as one, just as Jesus and His Father are One. We have allowed our own ideas to tarnish the clear teaching of the Word of God.

    3) WE ALL HAVE GONE ASTRAY. Isaiah 53:6 (NIV) teaches that “we all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” This is not a complement to us but revealing our true condition. We are stupid sheep; we need the Shepherd’s rod to lead us through our life experiences so we are not lost. (Disclaimer: no connection to subversive groups). That means, you and I will naturally wander outside of the distinct leading of God’s Spirit. Unfortunately, we fool ourselves when we trust our thinking and logic. For this reason, I pray that you take the time to double check the Scripture references above to allow the Spirit of God to confirm if, indeed, what I write is in harmony with the Word of God.

    DISCUSSION VS. MISLEADING
    Obviously, our government gives us the freedom to express freely. Unfortunately, the government is not the ultimate guide for our sick hearts. We must carefully consider our freedoms and use them properly so we may not become a stumbling block to others who may misinterpret our assumptions as absolute truth. This requires humility. The Lord taught us to always check our responses with the written Word of God by an “It Is Written.” The answers to our questions on inspiration are found in Scripture as revealed by God. To place our assumptions above the Word of God is “neither right nor safe.”

    It is OK to seek discussion. It is OK to seek answers. It is OK to ask questions. We also still have the responsibility to consider those who may take our personal logic and thinking and interpret them to support their unbiblical views. There is a forum for all our longings. We must learn to discern through the power and wisdom of the Spirit when and where we should discuss certain topics. In this age of information, we tend to think that all topics must be public. The reality is that such thinking may result in more harm done than good.

    CASE IN POINT:
    I struggled with atheism and agnosticism for most of my life until I came to understand the Bible as the infallible Word of God which is to inform my lifestyle and relationships (vertically and horizontally). Conversations with other atheists, as honest as they may have been, only strengthened my misunderstanding of my Creator and drove me further away from Him. My depraved mind could not understand spiritual things, because the things of God cannot be understood in a test tube.

    The person who lives without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. (1 Corinthians 2:14. NIV)

    HERE IS THE CHALLENGE: Just because we pray and read the Scriptures, it does not guarantee we have become experts in the Word of God. Our hearts need to be renewed in order for us to have a clear understanding of His Oracles. Our baptism does not qualify us to teach Scripture. The fact, that we believe in Jesus does not qualify us to teach Scripture. either. We must always question our motives. This is the reason why Paul told us about himself, “I die daily.” (1 Corinthians 15:31, NKJV).

    Dying daily is the only safeguard we have. When we die our thoughts perish. When we resurrect, our minds our transformed and renewed. This is the way we keep our head straight. They Lord ordained the renewing of our minds for this very reason. Just like our body must remove toxins from time to time and, therefore, must be cleansed, we must cleanse our minds from our preconceived ideas periodically if we are going to arrive at a correct understanding of God’s revelation.

    ONE FINAL THOUGHT:
    Since we cannot trust our own personal thinking, the Lord has left the Church, members of his body, to work together to come to a clear understanding of Scripture. This principle is rooted in Jesus’ prayer: “that they may be one as We are.” (John 17:11, 22 NKJV). Together is the Church to do biblical interpretation because our religious life is not private just as our interpretation of Scripture is neither personal nor private.

    “…Knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation…” (2 Peter 1:20, NKJV) The understanding of Scripture hinges on the Spirit of God leading us together to truth. Our human reasoning must be surrendered at the cross. For this reason, we humbly pray to ask our God to be merciful to us and reveal to us His truth.

    This foundational understanding lead the Seventh-day Church to acknowledge the divine authority of the General Conference in Session as the highest authority on earth as we are lead by the Holy Spirit to summarize the 28 Fundamental Beliefs. We study the Bible together, not alone. We cannot trust ourselves to do theology alone. This concept is contrary to the trends in society today, but it is clearly Biblical and therefore compulsory for all Christians.

    I leave you with the preamble to the Fundamental Beliefs of Seventh-day Adventists adopted in the 80’s:

    Seventh-day Adventists accept the Bible as their only creed and hold certain fundamental beliefs to be the teaching of the Holy Scriptures. These beliefs, as set forth here, constitute the church’s understanding and expression of the teaching of Scripture. Revision of these statements may be expected at a General Conference Session when the church is led by the Holy Spirit to a fuller understanding of Bible truth or finds better language in which to express the teachings of God’s Holy Word.

    This is how we Seventh-day Adventists “do” theology, together and of one mind — in submission to one another as Christ, our Head, is submissive to His Father, and the reason why the Spirit only speaks only “what He hears.” This is how the prayer of Jesus becomes a reality in the Christian Church.

    I submit to the authority of God’s Church; I do so out of reverence for Christ. Would you consider submitting to the authority of the Body of Christ on earth also? This is the only safeguard to false interpretation or interpretation that agrees with our depraved assumptions.

    If we begin with this understanding, we may proceed in seeking a biblical definition for THEOPNEUSTOS (“inspiration”).

    Blessings,

    Victor 🙂

    • Thanks Victor — I’m not ignoring you, this calls for a longer reply and I don’t have time right now, but will do so later.

    • I’ve thought a lot about your post, Victor, and the part I can’t get past is that after you say a lot of things I find uncontroversial, you finish by saying “I submit to the authority of God’s church …. Would you consider submitting to the authority of the Body of Christ on earth also?” That does not sound like a Protestant position to me, and in fact seems directly contradictory to the Luther quote you cite earlier:

      “Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason – I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other – my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.”

      I believe that Scripture is not of any private interpretation and that we cannot study Scripture in isolation — we do in community, and need to be guided and informed by what other Christians have learned. But it’s a long way from that to saying “submit to the authority” of any church since churches, as we all know and as Luther rightly pointed out, can be wrong and have changed their minds and their views of Scripture over time.

      I do believe that if you belong to a church you have an implied contract with that body and you treat its teachings with respect, but I do not believe that the be-all and end-all solution to questions and doubts is simply to submit to church authority — to me that is a Catholic, not a Protestant solution.

      • Trudy, I shuddered when I saw this written: “I submit to the authority of God’s Church; I do so out of reverence for Christ. Would you consider submitting to the authority of the Body of Christ on earth also? This is the only safeguard to false interpretation or interpretation that agrees with our depraved assumptions.”

        This is FAR too close to “Don’t worry your pretty little head about it” for my comfort level. I have heard this same rhetoric spoken by some of my SDA friends that have moved to Catholicism – “We just need to submit to what (the obviously much more blessed and intelligent) the leaders WHO HAVE BEEN APPOINTED BY GOD tell us.” Therefore taking “Come let us REASON” out of it and putting themselves firmly into the sheep camp.

        The irony is that we have much more information to draw on than the early Adventists did! They didn’t have the Dead Sea Scrolls, for example. They didn’t have a lot of the other writings we have been able to find and analyze. And they were more limited in their interactions with others. Why do we automatically believe that they knew best or had the closest connection with God? Just because they are dead?

  4. Hi Trudy, have been out of electronic connection for several blissful weeks and am now getting caught up. The issue of EGW can be quite complicated or simple. The traditional view is so complicated and contrived it is difficult, if not impossible to grasp. As you say, officially she does not have biblical authority. This, however, is a lie. Our entire eschatology comes from her. Just one specific example: our order of the millennium. Our sequence of events comes from her outline. Revelation, from whence the doctrine is derived is vague on the exact order. Another example is the whole Sunday Law thing. . .

    The simple view (and correct one in my view) is that she does not have biblical authority. If I read you correctly, there is a middle ground somewhere that allows for some level of divine inspiration. If you mean “inspired” like you getting an idea for a book, I have no issue with that. However, if you mean, “inspired” like some extra boost of authority, then I agree with Victor, there is no biblical basis for this and so therefore must be rejected.

    This then leaves EGW in the category of a devotional writer leaving one to agree or disagree with her views but no capacity for using them to prove the rightness of one’s own or the error held by someone else.

    PS Sorry to learn of your Mom’s sudden passing.

    • Thanks Evert. I think my view is basically the same as yours, and I agree that much of the SDA church treats Mrs. White’s writings as though they had authority equal to the Bible, even while saying they don’t. I think there are many SDA interpretations of Scripture that would be difficult if not impossible to arrive at from a plain reading of Scripture alone, without Mrs. White’s writings.

      I don’t really think there is a “middle ground” so much as I think that among the (non-Biblical) writers whose teaching we consider valuable or useful, most people would have a hierarchy that gives a higher position to those for whom they have greater respect. If you choose to belong to a church, the teachers and preachers who were foundational in the formation of that church are likely to have a higher position in that hierarchy for you, which seems fine to me as long as you don’t confuse their authority with that of the Bible.

      I think you might have gotten something different out of what Victor was saying than what I did. I may have misunderstood some of his points.

      • Well said. I’ll defer to your assessment of Victor over mine. I just looked at his questions numbered 2 & 3 and came up with my comment.

  5. Hi Friends,

    It is, indeed, wonderful to comeback and see some development in our discussion since my last post. Conversations tend to become a bit challenging when more than two people are interacting. Particularly, if we write comments without proper context. I appreciate, Evert revealing that his comments were based on points 2 and 3. This makes it easier to follow.

    Trudy, I certainly appreciate your enthusiasm, questions, clarifications and input. Thank you for returning to this “round table” one more time. In essence, this is the type of interaction that must take place among Christians, one of seeking to understand one another and doing our best to find commonality.

    As you can see from my previous posts, my goal has been to affirm the positive aspects of your contribution to this discussion. So far, we have not addressed the issue of the Adventist understanding of the Gift of Prophecy; on the contrary, I have only raised some questions based on your original statements. This present reply will attempt to provide some foundational points.

    My intent is not to disagree or invalidate any statements, but rather to seek to reconcile our assumptions with the Word of God. If all we do is share our opinions, then that is all that this conversation amounts to. On the other hand, if we seek understanding from the Scriptures, then we will all profit spiritually from Its insights. The result of this exercise ought to bring our thoughts closer in conformity to the thoughts of Christ (Col. 3:10; Romans 12:2), which ultimately results in unity in the Body of Christ.

    NOTE: My suggestion to anyone who reads this reply is to be a Berean, and check my statements with the Word of God. Like Luther, I am bound only by the truth of Scripture. Anything that deviates from His divine Word must be rejected.

    THE AUTHORITY OF GOD’S CHURCH ON EARTH
    (First allow me to add reply to your post dated, July 20, 2013 at 8:10 AM.)

    The question of authority is key in order to understand God’s gift of prophecy to the Church. Jesus was questioned on this very point by His critics (Matthew 21:23).

    1. Jesus taught with authority (Matthew 7:29) because the “Son of Man” has divine authority (Matthew 9:6).

    2. Before His ascension, our Lord empowered His disciples, the newly-formed Church composed of His faithful followers, with divine authority in order to accomplish their mission of reconciling the world to God, evangelism (Matthew 28).

    3. Notice that the definition for “Church” in Scripture, does not make room for “ἐκκλησία ekklēsia” to be understood to be a Christian Denomination. This divisive idea of Denomination is man-made and it is not biblical. So when we read the Scriptures, we cannot read the United Church of Canada, the Baptist Church, the Salvation Army, the Anglican Church or any other denomination into its meaning.

    The word ekklēsia was borrowed by the Biblical writers from the “Golden Age” of Greece which meant, the principal assembly of the democracy of ancient Athens. Inherently, the word carries the idea of authenticity, authority and centrality.

    This is the term that describes the Church of Jesus Christ as portrayed in Scripture. It is the principal authoritative and authenticated group of believers that represents Jesus on Earth. All others may look like it but when put to the test of Scripture, they will be unmasked as false, a counterfeit which does not carry the approval of heaven.

    In fact, the Bible describes the Church of the living God as being in agreement with the Law and the Testimony of Scripture (Isaiah 8:20), in other words, the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 7:12; Matthew 22:40). The true Church of God must have the light of Scripture in order to properly represent God on Earth. Without the light of the Word of God in their theology, they have no authority. It is the Word of God that gave authority to Jesus’ ministry and teaching because He was in agreement with Scripture. “It is written” and “thus says the Lord,” are the clear marks of God’s true Church.

    One last important point of this section is the fact that the book of The Revelation of Jesus Christ, teaches us that there is a counterfeit as portrayed by the two women who represent two religious institutions, both claiming to have authority.

    The woman in Revelation 12 represents the people of God “who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ” (Rev 12: 17, NKJV), an allusion to Isaiah 8:20. This first woman has authority because it is obedient to God’s commandments and is the faithful recipient of the oracles of God which are contained in the “testimony of Jesus Christ.”

    The woman in Revelation 17 is a counterfeit who pretends to have authority from heaven but is out of sync with the will of God. In fact, she is described as “Mystery, babylon the great, the mother of harlots and of the abominations of the earth.” She persecutes the saints of God’s Church, therefore it is intimately linked with the three beasts of Revelation 12 and 13, the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet.

    As one can see from the biblical depiction, the Church of God has biblical authority only as it is actively obedient to God’s commandments and faithfully preserves the testimony of Jesus which is written in Scripture. All those who are God’s people have these two characteristics. Obedience without faith in the Word of God amounts to legalism. Faith in the testimony of Jesus without obedience is nothing more than lip service to God’s Word. Both must be in place. This settles the question of who are the true disciples of Jesus Christ throughout all ages.

    THE AUTHORITY OF ELLEN WHITE

    1. The question of the authority of Ellen White, must be viewed from the point of view established above. We all agree that she is not a canonical messenger of the Lord. This fact alone does not imply any levels of inspiration.

    2. By definition, the biblical canon is described as “a list of books considered to be authoritative scripture by a particular religious community.” In other words, the books are recognized by Christians world-wide to contain the unadulterated and faithful true Word of God, and therefore are authoritative to the Christian Church.

    This is the reason why Seventh-day Adventists begin their fundamental beliefs with a statement recognizing the authority of the Word of God as the foundation of the rest of the 27 beliefs, including #18 (The Gift of Prophecy) which is founded on the authority of Scripture.

    3. Furthermore, the religious community through the ages, led by the Holy Spirit, has attributed authority to the set of documents contain in our Bibles. We Protestants have rejected the Apocrypha (a set of documents that are considered of dubious authenticity) and Pseudepigrapha (works falsely attributed to past authority figures).

    4. Ellen White never claims that her works have canonical authority or that they replace the Scriptures.

    She writes: “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 Evangelist, p. 37. (1902) {Ev 257.1}

    “Lesser light” is a reference to her works. This does not mean “less inspired” or an indication that she supported the notion of “levels of inspiration.” On the contrary, she referred to John the Baptist as the “lesser light” when comparing him to Jesus Christ.

    “The prophet John was the connecting link between the two dispensations. He was the lesser light which was to be followed by a greater.” {2SP 83.3, 1877}

    She explains: “Christ makes no apology when He declares, “I am the light of the world.” He was, in life and teaching, the gospel, the foundation of all pure doctrine. Just as the sun compares with the lesser lights in the heavens, so did Christ, the Source of light, compare with the teachers of His day. He was before them all, and shining with the brightness of the sun, He diffused His penetrating, gladdening rays throughout the world. . . .” {TMK 97.3}

    5. To be consistent, all human beings who receive light from God, the Source of all light, are classified as “lesser light.” Moses, Joshua, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Matthew, John and others, all canonical writers, are “lesser light.” They are not the source of light; their light only comes from God.

    As you can see, John the Baptist is a prophet of God but he does not have any book that he ever wrote and therefore, never made it into the biblical canon. There is no mention that he ever had a vision of God or a dream. John is a non-canonical prophet who survives in the Christian memory because the Gospels recorded his role as the precursor to the Messiah, He announced the first arrival the first Advent of our Lord.

    It is assumed by some that in order to be a prophet, one must be canonical and have received visions. As one surveys the Scriptures, we find that such is not a full picture. Luke never saw visions or ever claimed that he received information from God, yet he is included in the canon.

    Such is the same for Mark. Both Luke and Mark never even met Jesus, yet, they are authorities on the life and works Christ. Luke did research and compiled information for his account of the life of Christ (Luke 1:1-4). Mark, most likely got his information from the apostle Peter. If you read the Gospel of Mark from beginning to end in one sitting, it will become apparent that Peter is featured prominently in the narration of the story.

    Daniel had dreams, like Joseph in the latter part of the story of Genesis. In fact, Daniel appears in the collection of Wisdom Literature of the Jewish canon and not among the Prophets. The Christian community considers him to be a prophet, nonetheless, because Jesus Christ called him a prophet (Matthew 24:15). Again, the community, led by the Spirit, gives authenticity to the authority of Daniel as a prophet of God.

    6. The question of the authority of the canon and of the prophets lies in the Source of light. ” To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.”

    This same question is to be asked in regards to the authority of Ellen White as a messenger of God. Is her message in harmony with Scripture? Does she invalidate Scripture? As we see with Noah, Joseph, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, John the Baptist, Luke Mark and other messengers of God, the question is not whether they are canonical, but whether their Source of light is from God, the ‘greater light.’

    The question that needs to be settled is whether or not Ellen White’s Source of light is God and His authoritative Word.

    CONCLUSION

    This above information should answer your question in regards to Luther’s statement. Luther’s point was very simple: Is the Church in harmony with the Word of God? If the Church’s teaching contradicts the Word of God, then it must be rebuked and reformed.

    From the historical vantage point of Dr. Luther, he did not see religious denominations; there was no such thing for him There was only the universal Church of God, the Holy Catholic Church. His criticism was not of religious denomination because there were none. There were subversive underground groups what opposed the authority of the Medieval Church on similar grounds as Martin Luther. In fact, there was no such thing as freedom of religion, one was either a Catholic or not. The only authorized visible Christian Church was the Catholic Church which bases its authority on the direction succession of the Apostle Peter as the first spiritual leader of the Church of Jesus Christ.

    Luther’s core issue was “Scripture and plain reason,” not denominational authority, nor apostolic succession. This opens up a entire topic of study. For now, let us keep in mind that my statement above regarding my submission to the authority to God’s Church, His faithful Body of believers on Earth, is assuming that such Church draws its authority from God’s Word in deed (obedience), and teaching (testimony).

    Like Luther, I can only submit as long as the Church, His people, are willing to be open to kind rebuke and a call to reformation. This is the reason why we Seventh-day Adventists see ourselves as reformers, more than just protesters. We don’t just cry out mistakes that are inconsistent with Scripture, for we are called to carry a message to the world to return to the true worship of God (Rev. 14:6-13), because the worshipers of God worship Him in truth and in Spirit (John 4:23).

    “In truth,” refers to His written Word. “Spirit,” refers to the Holy Spirit which leads us to all truth (John 14:17; John 16:13). The Spirit that inspired the Holy Oracles must be the same Spirit that “leads us to all truth,” which the book of Revelation calls, the “Spirit of Prophecy.” “Worship God! For it is the Spirit of prophecy who bears testimony to Jesus.” (Revelation 19:10). Anything less or more, is not from God.

    May the Lord bless you as you ponder on the words of my reply. V:-)

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