In October, the General Conference Executive Committee Newsletter carried an “interview” with Ellen G. White on Adventist History. Inspired by that article, we pursued an “interview” with the prophet in honor of her birthday, November 26. Born this day in 1827, she would be 191 years old today. Given the post-postmodern conversation about truth, we zeroed in on that topic for our questions.
Question: The General Conference Executive Committee recently met in Battle Creek in honor of the church’s founding sessions there. What place should tradition hold for our understanding of truth?
Answer: “Greater light shines upon us than shone upon our fathers. We cannot be accepted or honored of God in rendering the same service, or doing the same works, that our fathers did. In order to be accepted and blessed of God as they were, we must imitate their faithfulness and zeal, — improve our light as they improved theirs, — and do as they would have done had they lived in our day. We must walk in the light which shines upon us, otherwise that light will become darkness.”
—”Great Distress Coming, and God’s People Not Prepared for It,” Testimony for the Church, Number 7 (Jan. 1, 1862), in Spiritual Gifts, Important Facts of Faith (Battle Creek, 1864), p. 60. Reprinted in Testimonies, vol. 1, pp. 262-3.
I’ve been inspired by the devotion to Bible study of the early Adventist pioneers, particularly the study done following 1844, when they realized they got things wrong.
“We do not claim that in the doctrines sought out by those who have studied the word of truth, there may not be some error, for no man that lives is infallible; but if God has sent light, we want it; and God has sent light, and let every man be careful how he treats it.”
—“Open the Heart to Light,” Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, March 25, 1890, 177. Parts of this article were reprinted in Counsels to Writers and Editors (Nashville: Southern, 1946), 33-34, 41-42, but not the sentence quoted here.
That spirit of openness to learning more is impressive. What result did you see to that during your lifetime?
“Whenever the people of God are growing in grace, they will be constantly obtaining a clearer understanding of His Word. They will discern new light and beauty in its sacred truths. This has been true in the history of the church in all ages, and thus it will continue to the end. But as real spiritual life declines, it has ever been the tendency to cease to advance in the knowledge of the truth. Men rest satisfied with the light already received from God’s Word, and discourage any further investigation of the Scriptures. They become conservative, and seek to avoid discussion.
“The fact that there is no controversy or agitation among God’s people should not be regarded as conclusive evidence that they are holding fast to sound doctrine. When no new questions are started by investigation of the Scriptures, when no difference of opinion arises which will set men to searching the Bible for themselves, to make sure that they have the truth, there will be many now, as in ancient times, who will hold to tradition, and worship they know not what . . . .
“When God’s people are at ease and satisfied with their present enlightenment, we may be sure that He will not favor them. It is His will that they should be ever moving forward to receive the increased and ever-increasing light which is shining on them. The present attitude of the church is not pleasing to God. There has come in a self-confidence that has led them to feel no necessity for more truth and greater light . . . . God wills that a voice shall be heard arousing His people to action.”
—“The Mysteries of the Bible a Proof of Its Inspiration,” Testimonies, 5:706-9. 1889.
Your encouragement to continue pursuing the truth is appreciated.
“There is no excuse for anyone in taking the position that there is no more truth to be revealed, and that all our expositions of Scripture are without an error. The fact that certain doctrines have been held as truth for many years by our people is not a proof that our ideas are infallible. Age will not make error into truth, and truth can afford to be fair. No true doctrine will lose anything by close investigation.”
—“Christ Our Hope,” ARSH, Dec 20, 1892, p. 785; reprinted Counsels to Writers and Editors, p. 35.
This was a topic you wrote about several times in 1892. And your counsel has been preserved specifically for writers and editors.
“Let no one come to the conclusion that there is no more truth to be revealed. The diligent, prayerful seeker for truth will find precious rays of light yet to shine forth from the word of God. Many gems are yet scattered that are to be gathered together to become the property of the remnant people of God.”
—Counsels on Sabbath School Work (Battle Creek, MI: Review and Herald, 1892), 34; repr. Counsels to Writers and Editors, 35.
One of my teachers, Fritz Guy, is a big fan of yours. He often reminded us of important things you had to say about the lessons that we have to learn and unlearn.
“Long-cherished opinions must not be regarded as infallible. . . . However long men may have entertained certain views, if they are not clearly sustained by the written word, they should be discarded. Those who sincerely desire truth will not be reluctant to lay open their positions for investigation and criticism, and will not be annoyed if their opinions and ideas are crossed. . . .
“We have many lessons to learn, and many, many to unlearn. God and heaven alone are infallible. Those who think that they will never have to give up a cherished view, never have occasion to change an opinion, will be disappointed.”
—"Search the Scriptures," Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, July 26, 1892, 465; repr. Counsels to Writers and Editors, 36-37; and, in part, in Selected Messages from the Writings of Ellen G. White, 3 vols. (Washington, DC: Review and Herald, 1958-80), 1:37.
Thanks so much for speaking with us today. You have blessed us greatly in the past and we look forward to continuing to learn from you in the future. I’m sure that our readers also have favorite sayings of yours that perhaps they would like to share in the comment section below.
Happy Birthday Mrs. White – and to my friend Juli Miller who shares your birthday and your love of learning.
Bonnie Dwyer is editor of Spectrum.
Image courtesy of the Ellen G. White Estate.
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