THE CLOSETS Having come into Adventism from the outside world, there are some distinct advantages. That is to say, in the area of assumptions. I do not have multiple generations to point back to. As a matter of reality, no one in my extended family had ever heard of Adventism. Therefore, I was not weaned upon Ellen White. And so, the glasses that I use have a different set of assumptions than those whose inner child is dominated by their parents’ version of Ellen White.

Now, don’t get me wrong. When I came into the church, I devoured her writings. I finished the entire Conflict series within three months before I was even baptized. Her views were broad and profound. I was like a soul lost in the desert of this world’s confusion. She helped me comprehend the breadth of the whole plan of redemption from Eden lost to Eden restored.

I was so blown away by the message of Jesus’ soon coming, I started giving my own Bible studies on Daniel and Revelation before I’d even finished my own baptism. Within my first few years as an Adventist, I listened to our entire church tape library of sermons (which consisted of around a thousand tapes). This helped expose me to all the great preachers and teachers like Brooks, Richard, Maxwell, Venden, and Halverson. I was so zealous, I even read many of the pioneers’ own writings! I became a devout Seventh-day Adventist, giving 150% commitment to the Lord.

But unfortunately, I was also exposed to all the skeletons in the church’s closet and the critical spirit that often goes along with it. The deeper I dove, the less I was becoming like Jesus, and the more I was becoming like Saul–“If anyone else thinks he has grounds for confidence in the flesh, I have more.” Phil 3:4 (CSB). And nowadays with the Internet, any Adventist can find the motherlode of denominational laundry. 1850, 1870’s, 1888, 1905, 1919, 1957, 1980, etc. And these issues inevitably cluster around Ellen White.

It all reminds me of my Finnish grandmother’s survivalist stew called, Mojakka (pronounced moy-yuk-ah with emphasis on the “yuk” part when you’re a kid). Her recipe was basically, throw giant chunks of everything in the pot and cook it to death. And sadly, the Seventh-day Adventist church’s closets are packed to bursting with nepotism, semantics, polemics, revisionism, and apologetic gymnastics, all an effort to avoid the complex questions raised about her theology. And the greatest sin of all these histories that no one is talking about? The trail of wounded souls who have often left God altogether because of the “yuk”.

So, if you really want to save your children, and save the church, then it’s well beyond time for some transparency, to open the closet and let whatever comes out tumble into the full light of accountability. Because if we don’t, the church won’t survive the raw truth (or even the fabrications) of the Internet. So, hang on to your hats, because this is going to get bumpy.

OMNISCIENCE Among those most revered in the Judeo-Christian faith were the prophets. And rightly so, as a prophet is defined by Webster as: “one who utters revelations”, and “the final authoritative revealer of God’s will.” They are the ones who communicate with God directly. So, in a sense, to disagree with a prophet is like disagreeing with God. But there are many over the centuries that have “profited” as prophets.

Which is why there are many specific signs of a true prophet found in Scripture. Such as the one I want to discuss today in Deuteronomy 18:21-22. It basically says, “if their predictions do not come to pass, that prophet is not from God”. And so, to ask the question, “Can inspired people make mistakes?” may seem like a bit of a misnomer.

Yet, there is a curious exchange between the disciples of the prophet John and Jesus in Matthew 11. In vs 2-4, “John the Baptist, who was in prison, heard about all the things the Messiah was doing. So, he sent his disciples to ask Jesus, ‘Are you the Messiah we’ve been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else?’” In response, Jesus healed loads of people and then said, “John is more than a prophet, he is a messenger sent to announce the My coming”. And then in vs 11 He says, “I tell you the truth, of all who have ever lived, none is greater than John the Baptist!”

So according to Jesus, he is the greatest prophet that ever lived. the “messenger” meant to prepare the people for the advent of the Savior! So, what did John do as this “chosen one”? He sent his disciples to question if Jesus was even the Messiah?! Wait, what? Why? I would argue that it was because his theology was influenced by his environment. The Jews had mistakenly mixed the prophecies of the glory of the second Advent and completely missed the humility and suffering of the first. Think about it! What this implies is that the greatest prophet that ever lived, the messenger of the Lord, had bad theology! John had mistaken theology because his thinking was confused by the theological beliefs of his culture.

So, did Jesus reject the Baptist as a prophet because he had errors in his theology? No, rather Jesus doubled down on his gift! Don’t miss the most important point: Jesus still commended John and considered him inspired even with bad theology! Why? Because being inspired, and being omniscient, are not the same thing. Omniscience, infallibility, and inerrancy are defined as, “Universal complete knowledge. The capacity to know EVERYTHING.” And that gift belongs solely to God alone! We, as human beings, are erring, Spirit-led yes, but erring children, up to our necks in something we only barely comprehend.

And that is exactly why I love God so much! Because in the latter half of Matthew 11:11 it says, “…Even the least person in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than he is!” Wow! What a statement. In the eyes God, a repentant addict, struggling parent, or a check-out clerk, are greater than a prophet in God’s kingdom! How beautiful is our God! We can see this same principle in Hebrews 11:28-39, “All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith, yet NONE of them received all that God had promised. For God had something better in mind for us, so that they would not reach perfection without us.”

Our weak trembling steps of faith, stretching out feeble hands to our Savior, have the exact same hope as the heroes of old! I mean really, David, the man after God’s own heart, was a murderous adulterer. Sampson wasted his life with relationships, and Jonah ran away from God, yet they all still fulfilled their destinies. Or consider the prophet and high priest Eli. He was a terrible parent, enabling his children right in the church! Yet, all these broken, erring, hopeless cases were the very people God loved and called His own! And all this proves one thing. People do not lose their gifts simply because they make mistakes.

GROWING UP So, let’s make this simple. Think back to when you were 15. Would you seek out your 15-year-old self for life advice? I was a moron at that age. The meaning of life was friends, cars, and adventure (In retrospect, perhaps I haven’t learned a lot since then). And yet, that was the age Ellen was when she received her calling. Think seriously about it. Would Mrs. White in her 80’s has the exact same perspectives she had when she was 15? Of course not! She changed and matured just as we all do. And that includes her theology.

Just like the rest of us, when Ellen was young, her ideas were molded by her parents. And her parents belonged to a strict sect called the Methodist holiness movement, based in perfectionism. Because of this, she began her faith life with a fearful melancholic view of God, one that was synonymous with the legalism of the Puritan era. Just like John the Baptist, Ellen shared the theological views of the culture around her. But she grew out of those rigid views over time. And this maturation is obvious in her writings as well.

You can see it in her publications before and after 1888. She transitioned from Early writings to Desire of Ages, from Testimonies to Christ’s Object Lessons. That sickly, socially-rejected girl became a powerful woman who firmly trusted in Jesus as her hope for salvation. And I’m positive there are many of us who can share the exact same testimony of how God led us into clearer and still clearer views of His love.

To put some boots to this point, W.W. Prescott, among his many achievements in the denomination, the man who assisted with the development of the Desire of Ages in Australia, was the compiler of the book Education, as well as being the one in charge of revisions to the Great Controversy under the direct authority of W.C. White. He had this to say about the writings of Mrs. White: “It is firmly settled that phrases and historical statements in these books have to be corrected just the same as in other books.” (W.W. Prescott, G. Valentine, RHPA, p. 263).

THE FUTURE Her books were never written with the intention of being interpreted word upon word, replacing the study of the Scriptures. Her books were written as principle upon principle, to edify and guide. She never intended her teachings to be taken as theologically infallible. So “yes”, inspired people can make mistakes and still be inspired. Ellen White was just a normal human being with a deep abiding love for God, one who longed for Jesus to return like the rest of us. Someone who had an intimate connection with the Spirit of God and was still learning as she grew.

In the end, the Three Angel’s Message she so deeply believed in is, at its core, the Everlasting Gospel. And so, in hoping against hope, dreaming of the future of Adventism, it is my longing to see an honest church. One willing to be deeply blessed by Ellen White. But no longer willing to replace Jesus and His word with the idols of men. Because our job as “messengers” was never to blow the trumpet about the denomination or Ellen White. Our job is to announce the coming of the Lord!

Shayne Mason Vincent until the end of September 2022 was pastor of the Casper district in Wyoming. Email him at [email protected]