How to Interpret the Writings of Ellen White
How to Interpret the Writings of Ellen White
For the next few weeks, as Spirit of Prophecy Coordinator for the union, I will attempt to share with you a few articles on Ellen White. The first in the series is taken from a power point presentation, given to me by Pastor Leon Wellington, Spirit of Prophecy Coordinator at Inter-American Division of Seventh-day Adventists. It is entitled How to Interpret the Writings of E. G. White. As you well know, there are persons who misquote the writings of Ellen White and as such mislead others. Hopefully, you will find some of observations relevant.
1. Begin with a Healthy Outlook
It is important that you begin reading the writings of Ellen White with prayer. After all, did not the same Holy Spirit who inspired Moses inspire Ellen White? As such one would want the Holy Spirit to guide him or her. Says the Apostle James, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5, NKJV). Observe the following quote by Mrs. White, "Many think it a virtue, a mark of intelligence in them, to be unbelieving and to question and quibble. Those who desire to doubt will have plenty of room. God does not propose to remove all occasion for unbelief. He gives evidence, which must be carefully investigated with a humble mind and teachable spirit"(3T: 255).
2. Focus on the Central Issues
It is a mistake of ours to focus on secondary issues rather than the central point. To this Ellen White counsels: ”Beware of these side issues, whose tendency is to divert the mind from the truth"(CW: 47). For example, in looking at 1 Cor. 15:29, Paul says, “. . . what will they do who are baptized for the dead, . . . .” A casual look would imply that one can baptize for the dead as a means to change his or her standing with God. However, the Bible does not teach that view. Instead, it teaches that probation closes for a person at death. Therefore a responsible look at the 1 Cor. 15 will show that Paul’s main focus is the Resurrection, and the fact that Jesus died and rose offers hope for the Christian who dies in Christ.
3. Emphasize that Which Is Important
On Nov. 1, 1933, W.C. White received a letter from a lady asking about the use of long or short towels as used by Ellen White in the ordinance of humility. “There is quite a division in our church concerning the use of the long or the short towel in the ordinance of humility. Personally I am satisfied with the short towel, but the new members are confused when some use one and some use the other. Is there anything in EGW writings concerning this?” (One lady claims there is something in Early Writings.)
The letter is a classic one, as it magnífies a topic of no biblical importance into a point of contention. Additionally, it tries to solve the issue by calling on Ellen White’s personal example. In fact, some of the church leaders during her day wanted to make her example authoritative in health reform. Note her reply, “If what I did was the authority, of your health reform, then I would not give a farthing for your health reform at all (MS 34ª 1901).
4. Study All Available Information on a Topic
Mrs. White writes, “I have received many letters questioning me in regard to the proper attitude to be taken by a person offering a prayer to the sovereign of the universe. Where have our brethren obtained the idea that they should stand upon their feet when praying to God? (2SM, p. 311). Unfortunately, some have taken this quote to mean that prayer should be offered always kneeling and not any other way. However, when we read the same book a little further, we discover the following: “It is not always necessary to bow upon your knees in order to pray. Cultivate the habit of talking with the Saviour when you are alone, when you are walking, and when you are busy with your daily labor” (Ibid. 316). George Knight observes, “It would be ridiculous to kneel down in prayer when we are in a restaurant, in an elevator, or in other public places.”
5. Avoid Extreme Interpretations
Elder S. N. Haskell met people in Australia who were using the Bible and the Testimonies of Ellen White to support strange doctrines such as these: “The seal of God cannot be placed on any person of gray hair or any deformed person, for in the closing work we would reach a state of perfection both physically and spiritually” (not sure of reference)
Also, he had to deal with a related extremist teaching that, on the basis of the Ten Commandments, it was wrong to kill poisonous snakes or harmful insects. Mrs. White cautioned, “There is a class of people who are always ready to go off on some tangent, who want to catch up something strange and wonderful and new" (TM: 227). A case in point is her strong words about playing games. She wrote, “in plunging into amusements, match games, and pugilistic perfomances, I declare to the world that Christ was not their leader in any of these things” (FE: 378).
However, the very next sentence reads: “Now that which burdens me is the danger of going into extremes on the other side.” Therefore, in speaking to parents she penned, “I don’t condemn the simple exercise of playing ball; but this, even in its simplicity, may be overdone " (HA: 499).
To be continued!