How Ellen White is Like the Pope (and His Bishops), Part 2

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How Ellen White is Like the Pope (and His Bishops), Part 2

In my last column, I wrote about the four theological sources that an Adventist Quadrilateral has in common with the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. I concluded that these four sources work fine on their own unless you want to have Christians united in some sort of church or denomination or movement that transcends individual disagreements over points of doctrine. In other words, I suggest church history shows that if we want to be the church of Ephesians 4:13, we need to have one more source in our quadrilateral.

I have called this second-tier element, for lack of a better term, a theological mediator. A theological mediator may be a person (living or dead), an institution, or even a spiritual practice. And to the best of my knowledge, every Christian church/denomination/movement in history has had one.

 

Generally speaking, a theological mediator unites believers by doing two things:

  1. Applying (or “mediating”) Scripture in a message that is particularly applicable to their current circumstances.
  2. Demonstrating supernatural confirmation that this message is from God.

 

Defined in this way, all the Biblical prophets, including Jesus and the apostles, were theological mediators. If we accept that this definition of theological mediators is biblical and that the Holy Spirit is still active in the church, then we should conclude that God can use theological mediators in the church today.

 

Adventists should be able to see that this definition of a theological mediator includes the classic Adventist understanding of the Holy Spirit’s work (as in, the Spirit of Prophecy) through Ellen White—a prophet who confirms “present truth” but does not replace the need for scripture.[1]

 

But this definition of a theological mediator must not exclude those in other churches who fulfill similar roles. For example, Protestant churches recognize the work of the Holy Spirit in generating the reformers messages, and thus Wesley functions as a theological mediator for Methodists, Calvin for Calvinists, etc.

 

Granted, they do not recognize them as strong a supernatural confirmation in the experience of their reformers as Adventists see in Ellen White, and perhaps this is one reason why their churches are less organizationally unified.

 

The Roman Catholic Church, on the other hand, is very organizationally unified and has developed a theological mediator with a supernatural confirmation of prophetic proportions. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church the Pope, when he makes certain proclamations (ex cathedra); and his bishops, when they all get together and make proclamations, are infallible in matters of doctrine and practice.[2] This is accomplished by means of a spiritual gift, “the charism of infallibility,” and has a “prophetic” function in the Church.[3]

 

So, when critics of Adventism say that Ellen White is like the Pope, in a certain sense, they are correct. But if they stop there and do not acknowledge certain key differences between the way the pope functions as a theological mediator and the way Ellen White functions as a theological mediator (especially their relationship to scripture), they are not doing justice to either. But the conflation of Ellen White and the Pope serves to illuminate the underlying issue which these critics ignore—they prefer their theological mediators (such as Luther) on the lower end of the supernatural confirmation spectrum.

 

I hope by now it is clear that, on a practical level, the question is not so much whether we will have theological mediators, but who or what we will allow to occupy that position in the theology our faith community.

I believe that ideally, each individual should make up their own mind based on Scripture in light of tradition, reason, and experience. In reality, few Christians ever undertake such a radical questioning of the belief system of their own accord.

 

One final note for Adventists: I have “Spirit of Prophecy” in the chart and not “Ellen White” for a reason. If we limit the Spirit of Prophecy the institution of Ellen White’s writings, we cut ourselves off from the possibility of a living prophet, and the relevance of our message will eventually pass beyond the horizon of relevance in our changing world.

 

I’m not asking us to accept every Ernie Knoll that comes along, but we must be open to the larger fulfillment of Joel 2 if we want to be the remnant of Revelation 12.

 

This article was originally published on David Hamstra’s blog apokalupto.blogspot.com

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Notes.

[1] Ellen White, “A Word to the Little Flock,” p. 21.

[2] Catechism of the Catholic Church, Section 891.

[3] Catechism of the Catholic Church, Sections 2035-6.

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David Hamstra serves as Lead Pastor of the Edmonton Central Seventh-day Adventist Church (Alberta, Canada) and is a ThD student (theological and historical studies) at Andrews University. David is married to Heidi, and God has blessed them with three sons and a daughter. He enjoys cooking, running, repartee, and road trips. David writes at apokalupto.blogspot.com and tweets @djhamstra.