S P R I N G • 2 0 1 6
VOLUME 17, ISSUE 1
Rick Barker is a native of Southwestern Ohio and facilitates a weekly Bible study for former and transitioning Adventists in the Dayton, Ohio, area. Rick graduated from Andrews University in 1987 and received a Masters degree from the University of Dayton. Rick and his wife Sheryl formally left the Adventist chuch in 2004. Prior to this they had been active in the Miamisburg and Wilmington, Ohio, churches.
Adventism’s Fundamental Belief #18: The Gift of Prophecy
The Scriptures testify that one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is prophecy. This gift is an identifying mark of the remnant church and we believe it was manifested in the ministry of Ellen G. White. Her writings speak with prophetic authority and provide comfort, guidance, instruction, and correction to the church. They also make clear that the Bible is the standard by which all teaching and experience must be tested.
Comments about the belief statement
This belief statement about the role of Ellen G. White was changed during the General Conference session in July, 2015. Since 1980 the belief statement had been worded this way:
One of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is prophecy. This gift is an identifying mark of the remnant church and was manifested in the ministry of Ellen G. White—the Lord’s messenger. Her writings are a continuing and authoritative source of truth which provide for the church comfort, guidance, instruction, correction. They also make clear that the Bible is the standard by which all teaching and experience must be tested.
First we need to examine what has changed in this belief statement.
In the previous version, Ellen White’s writings were described as “a continuing and authoritative source of truth”; in the current version her writings are said to “speak with prophetic authority”.
According to the Seventh-day Adventist North America Division News Release on the subject of the changes in this statement of belief (July 12, 2015), “There were no changes in the revisions adopted last week that (add to or change the meaning of the prior statements).” Interestingly, this particular news release is no longer accessible online, although it is referenced in an article in Adventist Today.1
This same Adventist Today article, referencing the now-unavailable news release from July 12, explains the changes this way:
Some felt that the prior version gave Adventist Church cofounder Ellen G. White authority comparable to that of the Bible. Changes were made to remove this potential ambiguity. White herself emphasizes that her authority is subject to the Scriptures. The new wording of this statement does not in any way diminish the church’s understanding of the authority of the Bible or the prophetic role of White.2
Please bear with me as I walk through the logic and implications of these recent changes.
Does Scripture speak with prophetic authority? Certainly.
Is a prophet of God a source of truth? Absolutely, because if what a prophet says isn’t true, then Scripture condemns him or her as a false prophet (Deut. 18:20-22; Eze. 13:9; Jer. 23:30-32).
Since prophecy and Scripture both originate with God, the truth and authority of both are based on the Source. Interestingly, Peter states that “no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will” (2 Pet. 1:21). At the end of this tiny epistle, Peter further clarifies where one finds authoritative prophecy, and he describes the Old and the New Testaments this way: “You should remember the words spoken beforehand by the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior spoken by your apostles” (2 Pet. 3:2). In other words, believers are to remember the Old Testament prophets’ words; the New Testament words from the Lord were spoken by the apostles.
This clarification is why Paul tells us to test “prophetic utterances” carefully; anything we “hold fast” must contain the message and authority of God’s revealed word (1 Thess. 5:20-21), and the “prophet” must be 100% accurate. (Deut. 18:20-22; Jer. 23:30-32).
Because there really is no difference between “prophetic authority” and “an authoritative source of truth,” the Adventist church can fairly say they have made no changes or additions to the meaning of Fundamental Belief 18. Ellen White’s “prophetic authority” remains the same as it has always been.
Statement of confidence in EGWs writings
At the same July, 2015, General Conference session where the Fundamental Belief #18 was “softened” in its wording, delegates received a “Statement of Confidence in the Writings of Ellen G. White” in their agendas. On July 7, this statement was adopted as an official affirmation of the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s confidence in Ellen White,3 apparently as an attempt to offset concerns that omitting “source of truth” would be seen to weaken White’s authority. The statement says:
As delegates to the 2015 General Conference Session in San Antonio, Texas, we express our deep gratitude to God for the continuing presence of the various spiritual gifts among His people (1 Cor 12:4-11; Eph 4:11-14), and particularly for the prophetic guidance we have received through the life and ministry of Ellen G. White (1827-1915).
On the centennial of her death, we rejoice that her writings have been made available around the globe in many languages and in a variety of printed and electronic formats.
We reaffirm our conviction that her writings are divinely inspired, truly Christ-centered, and Bible-based. Rather than replacing the Bible, they uplift the normative character of Scripture and correct inaccurate interpretations of it derived from tradition, human reason, personal experience, and modern culture.
We commit ourselves to study the writings of Ellen G. White prayerfully and with hearts willing to follow the counsels and instructions we find there. Whether individually, in the family, in small groups, in the classroom, or in the church, a combined study of the Bible and her writings provide a transforming and faith-uplifting experience.
We encourage the continued development of both worldwide and local strategies to foster the circulation of her writings inside and outside the church. The study of these writings is a powerful means to strengthen and prepare His people for the glorious appearing of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.4
What do the words mean?
In spite of its edits, the amended belief statement still reveals the truth about Adventism’s dependence upon EGW as God’s voice to them—a dependence reflected in the “Statement of Confidence”. Let’s look at what their carefully-chosen phrases mean.
“One of the gifts of the Spirit is prophecy.” This statement is true.
“[Prophecy] is an identifying mark of the remnant church.” There are multiple fallacies within this one short statement. One is the fallacy noted in the discussion of Fundamental Belief 17 in the last issue of Proclamation!: if the gift of prophecy has been given to the church, why does the Adventist church only recognize one person in all of church history as having received the true gift?
The second fallacy, addressed in the Winter, 2014, issue of Proclamation!, is the statement that the Adventist church is the remnant church. The lone scriptural reference for this remnant church is Revelation 12:17: “So the dragon was enraged with the woman, and went off to make war with the rest (remnant) of her children, who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus.” The “rest”, or remnant, of the passage is not a denomination, as Adventism teaches. Instead, this verse describes how Satan, when He can no longer attack Jesus or the woman who gave Him birth, turns his attack on the other children of the woman, the brothers and sisters of Christ. The concept of “remnant church” is not found in this passage nor in the rest of Scripture. In fact, throughout both Old and New Testaments, the remnant are always the few who trust in God even in the midst of horrific opposition.
“[Ellen White’s writings] make clear that the Bible is the standard.” Consider the irony of this statement. The confirmation for Adventists’ believing that the Bible is the standard for testing, as stated in this Fundamental Belief, is Ellen White’s statement. In other words, Ellen White is their final authority for both accepting and interpreting God’s Word. This wording shows that Adventists actually have two sources of doctrine, the Bible and Ellen White.
The careful reader might also notice that this statement doesn’t address dealing with a false prophet. Instead, it opens the door for the common (and non-Biblical practice) of dealing with each teaching individually, without drawing any conclusion about the legitimacy of the prophet and his overall message. So, even if one concludes that a statement of EGW’s doesn’t align with Scripture, this Fundamental Belief only asks that you evaluate the teaching, not the teacher. This “permission” does not go far enough. If the teaching is false, the prophet is a false prophet, and all of the “fruit” from the rotten tree is unfit for consumption.
I would agree with the Belief Statement that Ellen. G. White exhibited the characteristics of a prophet. However, this fact demands that we must test her to determine whether she is a true or a false prophet. The biblical standards for being a true prophet of God are quite high. There is no such thing as a “sometimes true” prophet of God. I would like to challenge every Adventist to get off the fence and decide, as Ellen White herself phrased it, whether her visions were “of God or the devil”.5 If she is a true prophet of God, obey her writings as you would every other word from God. If she fails the tests of a true prophet, flee from her and the church claiming her teachings as fast as you can. †
Copyright 2016 Life Assurance Ministries, Inc., Camp Verde, Arizona, USA. All rights reserved. Revised June 7, 2016. Contact email: email@example.com