“I am a vegetarian,” my coworker announced smugly. “I only eat animals who eat plants.”
“Why should you eat processed food when you can eat the plants for yourself?” I retorted smartly.
“Oooh,” exclaimed my coworker. “I like that!”
This conversation was an analogy of exactly how I felt about Ellen White. I had heard that she was the lesser light that led to the Greater Light –the Bible. If that was the case, then why should I bother with the lesser light if I could go straight to the Greater Light? I was not convinced.
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I have since had a paradigm shift. Ellen White is currently one of my favorite authors. I devour everything she has written, just like I try to read everything from Brené Brown, Malcolm Gladwell, Phillip Yancy, Norma Youngberg and June Strong. She influences the way I write. I try to imitate her balanced perspectives. I strive to be as open-minded as she was–a woman ahead of her time. Mostly, I want to be just as Christ-centered
Question: If God sent you a message, wouldn’t you want to read it?
Think about it. If God sent a message, it would make sense to read it simply because it was there. He could have said something new. It could contain something exclusive for our time.
In hope of helping you make the most of these writings, I am sharing some secrets to help us understand this most recent messenger of the Lord. Here are some basics on how to navigate the writings of Ellen White.
Use common sense
The board had gathered together to discuss the particulars of starting a church school. Christian education is a good thing—and everyone agreed on that—however, an argument broke out.
“Let’s start out with the 4th grade, because Mrs. White tells us that from birth until the age of 9 or 10 the mother is the best instructor,” stated a devout brother well-read in the inspired writings.
A portion of the board was shocked. It didn’t make any sense. Not all families were able to educate their children at home. Some families had both parents working full-time at the nearby Adventist hospital. Perhaps the parents were simply at a lost to create an atmosphere of discipline in the home. Should they just let the children run wild throughout the town making mischief until they were ten years of age?
After a season of heated debated, some one got a brilliant idea.
“Let’s just ask Mrs. White!”
So, they invited the prophet to the next board meeting. However, she didn’t say what they expected. She explained the context for writing the previously quoted words. When she counselled Sabbath-keepers to instruct their children at home in their early years, there had not been such a thing as Adventist Education. She was alarmed that the church members had unilaterally applied her words without considering the implications. She finished with a rebuke: “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.”
Often, we have so much confidence in our abilities to abide by the principles in scripture and inspiration that we misapply them. This is nothing new. The Pharisees and Sadducees did the same thing in their zeal to follow the Lord.
Think “Translation” rather than “Transcription”
“This is ackee, and this is breadfruit,” I explained to my Korean friend as I served her a plate of traditional Jamaican food.
It would be hard to explain what the fruits tasted like because I had grown up eating them. I heard people say that ackee taste like tofu. However, for an Asian that wasn’t accurate description.
“Ackee tastes like pasta. Breadfruit tastes like sweet potato, but not sweet,” she noted.
God thundered from heaven and the prophet wrote it down. This is often the concept many people have of inspired writing. While we do have instances of angels telling prophets such as John the Revelator to write particular messages, the book of Revelation paints a picture of how God imparts heavenly concepts to the prophets for them to express in a language that humans can understand. The prophets frequently describe the inspirations as visions in which they saw vivid imagery. I always kind of saw them like translators of a heavenly language.
It’s the thoughts are heavenly. The words are human.
The official stance of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventist is that God inspires prophets with thoughts not words. This means that prophets may reword their statements in contemporary language to better reflect what God was trying express through them. Once Ellen White had to overhaul the Great Controversy so it would have a greater impact. She found quotes from historians who better described what she had seen in vision. Instead of being proud and clinging to the words she had formly written, she made the adjustments needed so her work better reflected what God had shown her.
Beware of Compilations
An Adventist friend and I listened in dismay as our two non-Adventist classmates recounted the horrors of navigating a class called Hogar Cristiana—literally translated “Christian Home.” More accurately, the honest translation for that class was Adventist Home. And the textbook was none other than—you guessed it—the infamous compilation Adventist Home. Forty percent of my university was non-Adventist, but in order to graduate they were still required to plunge into the deepest of Adventist jargon with no one to help them translate.
Still, one of my friends was putting forth her best effort.
“I tried to read the context to see where she was coming from,” she confided.
Yet there is often no context to be found in a compilation, and beyond this, it was a compilation translated into Spanish. I felt frustrated as my Adventist friend and I tried to repair this awkward encounter with what was supposed to be the beautiful tapestry of a true Adventist Home. I wondered if the professor could have been more considerate and somehow introduced the love of Jesus portrayed through the family a little better.
That being said, I do read compilations. Ministry of Healing, Steps to Christ, Letters to Young Lovers, Messages to Young People and the Canvasser Manual are all powerful books.
Yet I don’t think you get the same glimpse into Ellen White’s heart and mind as you do when you read her complete works. Stories about heroes of faith. One of my favorites being the story in the pages of The Great Controversy of the men with an intent to kill John Wesley, but then they ended up petting his head. I love the chapters in the Desire of Ages recounting the intimate moments between Jesus and the people He served on the way to the cross despite His excruciating pain.
My point is that we should read compilations carefully. Do your research. Try to understand the context around the words which might not be in the text of the book itself. Who was she talking to? What were they doing? Think about the greater Biblical principles and how the words in front of you fit into the bigger picture of practical godliness.
Test for yourself
“I don’t like mangos,” my friend confided.
“Really?” I exclaimed in shock.
“Well, I have only had them in fruit bowls in Ohio,” she explained.
I noticed there were red flags all over this picture. First, there is no way a ripe mango could make it to the countryside of Ohio. Second, a force ripened cut mango shipped from Mexico doesn’t compare to a juice dripping down your arms as you bite into the golden flesh of freshly picked Caribbean mango.
In the same way, you have to taste Ellen White in all her unadulterated glory with your mind ripened by the sweet influence of the Holy Spirit. The misquotes and rumors surrounding Ellen White are going to taste a lot like force ripe mangos in Ohio. Please test her for yourself. Does she stick with what you find to be true in the Bible? Does her life demonstrate a rich relationship with Jesus? Have her predictions come true? Do you see Jesus in her writings? Does she show that God sent Jesus as His only son?
Of course, there will be times when you don’t see eye to eye. There will be times that you’ll have to wrestle. There will be times you’ll be challenged. Yet it’s highly likely that you’ll learn a lot from Ellen White if you give her an open-minded chance.
Be filled with the Spirit
“The Great Controversy is inspired, but the other stuff…” he shook his head unconvinced.
“Oh, wow!” I exclaimed trying to mask my surprise.
We were talking about which of Ellen White’s books were inspired. I hadn’t really thought about the concept of some of her works not being inspired. Well, obviously not all of her writings were inspired. I am sure most of her grocery lists are her own opinion.
The story is told of how Ellen would wake up her husband in the night to tell him something.
“Is it a message from the Lord?” he would demand.
If it was, he would listen. If not, he didn’t want to hear it. He would promptly turn over in bed and go back to sleep.
Allow for the Holy Spirit’s guidance. Don’t merely trust your own interpretations.
How do we figure out what is inspired and what isn’t? I don’t recommend you start sorting Mrs. White’s writings into inspired and uninspired like items for a garage sale. The apostle Paul said that spiritual things are spiritually discerned. Therefore, I just read and let the Holy Spirit sort it out. He’ll have no problem convicting me where and when I need to be convicted. I don’t claim to be an expert on whether writings are inspired or not, but the Holy Spirit is.
Hopefully these principles will aid you in reading though the materials of Ellen White. My hope is that you will find inspiration there and know there are blessings to be found!