Ellen G. White: Messenger to God’s End-Time People, Part 2

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Ellen G. White: Messenger to God’s End-Time People, Part 2

1888 and Righteousness by Faith

In 1888, Ellen White had just returned from her first visit overseas to Europe. She had spent two years traveling through England, France, Switzerland, and other places serving primarily as an evangelist and revivalist to help the growing conferences out there. She was also able to gather more information about the places she wrote about in what she considered her most important work, The Great Controversy. This volume about church history and last-day events was first published in 1888.

The positive accomplishment of publishing this important book was nearly swallowed up by the controversy that broke out at the General Conference Session that year. For a while, Ellen had been disappointed in the lack of Christ-centered messages given by Adventists. Differences in doctrine from other Christian denominations were the focus of many discourses rather than the saving merits of Jesus.

Two young Adventist ministers, E. J. Waggoner and A. T. Jones gave messages at the conference that brought a breath of fresh air to Ellen’s soul. She described the importance of the messages in this way:

“This message was to bring more prominently before the world the uplifted Saviour, the sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. It presented justification through faith in the Surety; it invited the people to receive the righteousness of Christ, which is made manifest in obedience to all the commandments of God. Many had lost sight of Jesus. They needed to have their eyes directed to His divine person, His merits, and His changeless love for the human family…The message of the gospel of His grace was to be given to the church in clear and distinct lines, that the world should no longer say that Seventh-day Adventists talk the law, the law, but do not teach or believe Christ.”[1]

Ellen understood that ministers, evangelists, and lay members needed to communicate the Adventist message while keeping the main focus on Christ. She pushed back against the negative response of church leaders who thought that these young preachers were doing away with the traditional message of the church. With her help, Waggoner and Jones were given a broad hearing throughout the church for the next decade to help educate leaders and members to lift up Jesus.

Educational Opportunities in Australia

In 1891, the General Conference asked Ellen to consider going to Australia to assist the growing conferences out there. Despite not wanting to go due to her age of 63 and her desire to focus on writing about the life of Christ, she decided to comply with the request of the General Conference. Her next nine years were spent on a different continent.

Australia soon grew on Ellen, and she found herself enjoying being there. The biggest plus for her was the opportunity to start a new college that would implement the educational program shown to her in visions. She had already written much concerning education in the 1870s and 80s, but from Australia came an overwhelming amount of counsels focused on schooling.

In 1899, Willie White wrote that “during the last two years I think Mother has written more upon the principles of education, the importance of Bible study, and the importance of combining labor with study, and the value of agriculture… than in all the years before. I think she has written more largely upon it than any other branch of our work.”[2]

Avondale College was established in 1897, mainly due to the guidance of Ellen White. She took a great interest in the school, primarily because educational reform was moving very slowly in America. She wrote in Australia concerning the school, “No breezes from Battle Creek are to be wafted in. I see I must watch before and behind and on every side to permit nothing to find entrance that has been presented before me as injuring our schools in America.”[3]

To Ellen, education was essential for the church to get right in order to properly spread the three angels’ messages to the world. She viewed Avondale as a school that others could pattern themselves after according to their circumstances.

Return to America and the Fall of Kellogg

Ellen accomplished a great deal in Australia. She helped build Avondale College, helped with evangelism and camp meetings that led to many baptisms, and published one of her most notable books, The Desire of Ages, while there. Her productivity in and fondness for Australia could not keep her there, though. There were developments at the heart of the church in America that she needed to be present for. She returned to the U. S. in 1900 and moved into the home she would eventually die in, Elmshaven, in St. Helena, California.

After assisting with the massive reorganization of the church from 1901 to 1903, the primary issue that needed handling was John Harvey Kellogg’s pantheistic teachings. Kellogg was one of the most educated men in the denomination, and he had surrounded himself with other educated doctors and influential persons. He also controlled the largest workforce in the church due to his leadership of the Adventist medical work. A clash with him could turn out disastrous for the Seventh-day Adventist church.

It pained Ellen deeply to have to go against him. She had known him from a young age and had mentored him so much over the years that he had become like a son to her. But her calling as a messenger of God compelled her to protect the spiritual health of His people at all costs.

Kellogg’s book, The Living Temple, was an idea given to him by the General Conference President to raise funds to rebuild the burnt down Battle Creek Sanitarium. But Kellogg’s inclusion of his pantheistic ideas into the book caused many to become confused. Once Ellen White read some of the book, she wrote strongly against it:

“I have something to say to our teachers in reference to the new book The Living Temple. Be careful how you sustain the sentiments of this book regarding the personality of God. As the Lord presents matters to me, these sentiments do not bear the endorsements of God. They are a snare that the enemy has prepared for these last days…

We need not the mysticism that is in this book. Those who entertain these sophistries will soon find themselves in a position where the enemy can talk with them, and lead them away from God. It is represented to me that the writer of this book is on a false track. He has lost sight of the distinguishing truths for this time. He knows not whither his steps are tending.”[4]

Unfortunately, the doctor refused to genuinely repent of his unchristian theological views and began to cause people to distrust whether what Ellen wrote was even of God. After a long-drawn-out battle, Kellogg was removed from church membership. He carried the Battle Creek Sanitarium and the American Medical Missionary College, the denomination’s only medical school, out with him.

Reestablishing the Church’s Medical Program

Ellen White soon set out to plant a new center for the church’s medical missionary work after the losses sustained from Kellogg’s break with Adventism. She had already been instrumental in installing three new sanitariums in California as the conflict with Kellogg was raging. God showed her that one of these healing centers, Loma Linda, was to be more than just another sanitarium. She wrote in 1909:

“Loma Linda is to be not only a sanitarium, but an educational center. A school is to be established here for the training of gospel medical missionary evangelists…

In regard to the school I would say, Make it especially strong in the education of nurses and physicians. In medical missionary schools, many workers are to be qualified with the ability of physicians to labor as medical missionary evangelists. This training, the Lord has specified, is in harmony with the principles underlying true higher education.”[5]

This would be a considerable undertaking for the church since medical qualifications in America were skyrocketing, causing many schools to close down. When asked by church leaders if the Loma Linda school was meant to qualify Adventist physicians to be recognized by the standards of the state, she replied,

“For the special preparation of those of our youth who have clear convictions of their duty to obtain a medical education that will enable them to pass the examination required by law of all who practice as regularly qualified physicians, we are to supply whatever may be required, so that these youth need not be compelled to go to medical schools conducted by men not of our faith.”[6]

This advice led to the domino effect of almost every Adventist college becoming an accredited institution. For students to transfer into the Loma Linda medical program, their credits would also have to be recognized by the accrediting agencies. Thus, Loma Linda became the pivoting point for most of Adventist education in America, and eventually the world.

The Prophet Finally Rests

In 1915, at the age of 87, Ellen suffered a fall coming into her study in her Elmshaven home that broke her left hip. She spent the last months of her life mostly in bed. She had made sure to finish up her writing and prepare the final books in what became known as the Conflict of the Ages series. Her work was done, and she could confidently say a few days before her death, “I know in whom I have believed.”[7] She passed away peacefully on July 16, 1915.

The majority of her life was dedicated to preparing as many people as possible for the second coming of Jesus. After her death, she was buried next to her husband in Battle Creek. Both of them died expecting to rise together come resurrection day.

Positive Lessons from the Life of Ellen White

Extremely Frugal and Generous

From a young age, Ellen White was knitting socks for 25 cents a day to purchase tracts about the Millerite message to give away to those who didn’t know about the soon coming of Jesus. Early in their marriage, James would get annoyed at Ellen for making rag carpets to sell for a little extra money. He found it embarrassing to bring over company and find her with the material for these carpets all over the floor.

But, according to Ellen, the proceeds from these rag rugs ended up helping James when he had his huge stroke. She writes: “Years before, when I was making these carpets, Father used to come in and begin to sing, ‘There’ll be no rag carpets over there.’ But afterwards, when the time came that I sold these carpets to get money to take him into the country, I told him that it was these very rag carpets that made it possible for me to take him to a place where he could recover.”[8]

Later in her ministry, when Adventist schools were largely in debt at the turn of the 20th century, Ellen donated all profits from the sale of her book, Christ’s Object Lessons, to help pay off these debts. She put her personal funds into Avondale College, the sanitariums in California, and helped many students pay for school at different times in her life.

Ellen White was not one to sit back and grow wealthy while writing and working for the church. In a letter written to Dr. Kellogg, she gives a simple thought that summarizes her beliefs about stewardship: “I do not profess to be the owner of any money that comes into my hands. I regard it as the Lord’s money for which I must render an account.”[9]

Mistakes We Can Learn From

Lack of Education Given About Her Book Making Processes

In 1976, Ronald Numbers published a book entitled Prophetess of Health, which accused Ellen White of copying from the health reformers of her day. In 1982, Walter Rea published The White Lie, claiming that her book, Desire of Ages, contained significant instances of plagiarism.

These books caused the Ellen G. White Estate and the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists to conduct massive studies into Ellen White’s use of sources. After talking with Walter Rea, a committee of the General Conference concluded that “the church leaders and the laity be educated concerning the extent and implications of Ellen White’s use of sources.”[10]

Many people at this time wrongly assumed that the woman they considered to be a prophet didn’t need to use any outside sources. They thought that she only needed the visions that God gave her to write her books and articles. These false notions about how inspiration works and how Ellen prepared many of her books led many to be shaken and confused about their faith in the 1970s and 80s.

In Ellen White’s defense, after a thorough study was conducted by experts in the field, she was not found to be a plagiarist. But many in the church had to come to grips with the fact that she quoted extensively at times from other writers. She clearly admits this in the introduction to the 1911 edition of The Great Controversy.

The 1919 Bible Conference minutes show that leaders in the church were aware, for the most part, how Ellen and her writing assistants prepared her books long before it became an issue. Perhaps the prophet could have done more to educate the laity when she was alive concerning this. Perhaps the leaders in 1919 should have made sure to teach these things to the church at large. Or perhaps God didn’t want it done at that time and allowed the crisis to come later to wake people up.

Whatever may be the case, we should realize that Ellen White was a child of her time. God helped her take what was available then and apply it then in a proper biblical context to guide His people to fulfill their mission to the world. We should keep studying how to take the principles revealed to us in the past and apply them correctly in our 21st-century context to finish God’s work.

Click here to read the rest of this series on the Adventist pioneers!

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Notes.

[1] Ellen G. White, Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers, p. 91-92.

[2] Willie White to C. M. Christiansen, Sept. 25, 1899.

[3] Ellen G. White, Manuscript Releases, Vol. 20, p. 215.

[4] Ellen G. White, Review and Herald, Oct. 22, 1903.

[5] Ellen G. White, Testimonies to the Church, Vol. 9, p. 173-174.

[6] Ellen G. White, Counsels to Parents, Teachers, and Students, p. 480-481.

[7] Ellen G. White, Life Sketches of Ellen G. White, p. 449.

[8] Ellen G. White, Manuscript 50, 1902.

[9] Ellen G. White, Letter 46a, 1894.

[10] George Knight, Ellen White’s Afterlife, p. 39.

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About the author

Tony Dennis

Tony Dennis is from Sacramento, California, and spent most of his life as an atheist. He was converted to Seventh-day Adventism when he was 21 years old by reading the book Steps to Christ. He has served as a teacher of Daniel, Revelation, and Sanctuary classes at the evangelism school Souls West. His passions are education and history.