Belief in Ellen G. White
as a Prophet:
Should It Be Made a Test of SDA "Fellowship"?
Roger W. Coon
1. On March 26, 1996, an E-mail message was posted
on the SDANet web page from "Nancy:"
I would really appreciate your answering this inquiry. We are going through quite a controversy in our church, and I need guidance. When I was baptized in the SDA Church 22 years ago, I was told I didn't have to believe that Ellen White was a prophet to be an SDA. Otherwise, I wouldn't be an SDA. Other folks in our church were told the same when they became SDAs. However, some people in our church said they had to say they believed in Ellen White when they joined.2. SDA's traditionally have used the expression "test of fellowship" to refer to tests of church membership, as they relate to:
You can prove all our doctrines from the Bible and I firmly believe them. Since belief in Ellen White is not necessary for salvation, I can't see why some folks want to strong-arm everyone into conforming. It's really dividing the church [here]. She herself said that nothing should be preached from the pulpit except the Bible.
My question is this: is it necessary to believe she was a prophet to be an SDA? I certainly believe that prophecy is a spiritual gift, but I believe the term "spirit of prophecy" means having the spirit of Christ, who was also a prophet (Acts 3:22-23). I do not believe the term refers to Ellen White. Thank you in advance for helping me.
a. Beliefs:The core "Fundamental Beliefs" doctrinal framework--the "minimum" one must believe in order to be accepted as a member in the fellowship of the church, and to remain as a member "in good and regular standing."
in harmony with those "Fundamental Beliefs," that does not reflect a departure
and apostasy from those basic beliefs.
3. Two questions, in this context, have been raised since the earliest days of the SDA church:
a. Isbelief in Ellen White as a prophet a "test" of "fellowship" (membership)?
b. Shouldbelief in
EGW as a prophet be madea test of fellowship?
4. And perhaps four resulting categories of viewpoints, among leaders and members, have arisen over the years:
a. Belief in her as a prophet is--and should be--a test of fellowship.
b. Belief in her as a prophet is--but should not be--a test of fellowship.
c. Belief in her as a prophet isn't--butit should be--a test of fellowship.
d. Belief in her as a prophet
it should not be--a test of fellowship.
5. That there is not, today, unanimity among our believers, coalescing around on of these four viewpoints is a surprise--and equally a distress--to many within the church.
a. But that there are differences
of opinion upon the question among conservativeSDAs may to some
be even more surprising--and distressing!
6. Historically, the evidence seems to indicate that the majority of the pioneer SDA leaders opposed making it a test of fellowship.
a. Many conservative leaders today still hold to such a position.
(1) A number of White Estate Trustees and staff, present and recently retired, continue to hold this historic position.
b. Others, of equal erudition and dedication, feel that the time has come to make it a test, and have increasingly voiced that opinion in public forums.
(1) And there is documentary evidence of a fairly recent shift of opinion, in several directions, as will be noted below.
c. Lastly, some, frankly, are confused.
Perhaps some of the confusion arises because of an individual's inability
to distinguish between a "teaching" of the church, on the one hand, and
a "test" of the church, on the other--a point, also, to be dealt with below.
I. Those Who Approve Making It a Test of Fellowship
A. Spokespersons for the Affirmative
1. Francis D. Nichol [1897-1966]: Church leader, minister, author, editor of the Review and Heraldfor 21 years:
a. Nichol poses and then answers the question in his characteristically forthright manner:
(1) There is another question that is sometimes asked: Should a person be taken into the church who does not accept Mrs. White as God's special messenger to the remnant church? We believe that the Adventist ministry in general would quickly answer, No.... In view of the fact that such a belief in Mrs. White is one of our articles of faith, why would anyone wish to belong to our church if he did not accept Mrs. White?--Why I Believe in Mrs. E. G. White [RH: 1964], p. 106.
b. Nichol provides no evidence
whatever in his essay of any awareness on his part that his view is diametrically
opposite of the position espoused by EGW and the early SDA pioneers, or
of the historic position of the church.
c. More astonishing (to those
of us who remember him as a most astute logician and polemicist) is the
apparent failure on his part to distinguish between Ellen White as a person
and as a doctrine, and to demonstrate his apparent inability to grasp Paul's
doctrine of spiritual gifts, and the concomitant doctrine of a remnant
church possessing the prophetic gift!
2. A growing number of SDA leaders, teachers,
and pastors at all levels of the church, virtually all of whom are
conservative in their theology and lifestyle, and who are seriously concerned
that the growing negative attitudes eroding confidence in EGW, her role,
and message, be reversed, and that she be given her rightful place within
the church which she helped to co-found.
B. Reasons for Their Approval
1. "Historical Conditioning:" While recognizing that EGW truly did oppose making belief in her a test of fellowship, they allege that her opposition is historically conditioned, and must be viewed contextually, taking into account her time and place.
a. They allege that her position of opposition was, indeed, appropriate for her day, in the infancy of the denomination, when she and her ministry were still comparatively unknown, even within the church itself.
b. But, say they, times have
changed; and the position appropriate to the church in that day is not
at all appropriate now.
2. The 1980 Change in the "Statement of Fundamental Beliefs:"
a. They point out, correctly, that a change was made at the 1980 General Conference Session in which that "Statement of Fundamental Beliefs" dealing with the Spirit of prophecy was amended, so that EGW's name appears earlier in the statement, making mention of it more prominent and more explicit. Let us notice the exact nature of this change:
(1) The original statement of belief (which first appeared in print in the 1931 edition of the SDA Yearbookand the first edition of the SDA Church Manual in 1932, read:
(2) The statement, as revised at the 1980 GC Session, presently reads:19. That God has placed in His church the gifts of the Holy Spirit, as enumerated in 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4. That these gifts operate in harmony with the divine principles of the Bible, and are given "for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ." Eph. 4:12. That the gift of the Spirit of prophecy is one of the identifying marks of the remnant church. (1 Cor. 1:5-7; 1 Cor. 12:1-28; Rev. 12:17; Rev. 19:10; Amos 3:7; Hosea 12:10, 13.) They recognize that this gift was manifested in the life and ministry of Ellen G. White.-SDA Encyclopedia (10BC : 396-98).
17. The Gift of Prophecy: 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. As the Lord's messenger, her writings are a continuing and authoritative source of truth which provide for the church comfort, guidance, instruction, and correction. They also make clear that the Bible is the standard by which all teaching and experience must be tested. (Joel 2:28, 29; Acts 2:14-21; Heb. 1:1-3; Rev. 12:17; 19:10).-GC Bulletin #9, May 1, 1980, pp. 25, 26; see also "Doctrinal Statements," SDA Encyclopedia (10BC : 468).
(3) Some would now view (possibly incorrectly) this change as the church's authenticating belief in her as a prophet as a test of fellowship, by means of this "Good Housekeeping Seal-of-Approval."
b. And some now go so far as to argue that belief in her should be a test, "just as much as tithe-paying is a test!"
(1) In this line of argument, however, such overreach themselves; for tithe-payingis not-yet (and never has been) a test! Belief in the titheobligation-the Biblical doctrine of tithe-paying-isa test of fellowship; but if tithe-paymentwere a test, only those gainfully employed could become (or remain) members of the SDA Church!
(a) And, to carry this inappropriate analogy one step further, reducing
it to the absurd, who among us can determine whether an amount of money
put into the tithe-envelope and marked as "tithe," is actually the donor's
3. A Pragmatic Way to Resolve an Urgent Church Problem: It is alleged by some that with the currently fairly-low level of acceptance of EGW as a prophet in some parts of the world church, that if we no longer make belief in her a test of membership, our pastors, evangelists, and Bible teachers will eventually discontinue anyreference to the prophetic gift within our midst.
a. And they argue that we
need belief in her now to be taught officially as a membership-defining
doctrine in order to shore-up the ever-deteriorating place of EGW within
the church at large!
II. Those Who Oppose Making It a Test of Fellowship
A. Spokespersons for the Opposition
1. James S. White: co-founder (with EGW and Joseph Bates) of the SDA Church, thrice GC President an aggregate of 10 years, and founder of four periodicals: Present Truth, theReview and Herald, the Youth's Instructor, and the Signs of the Times:
a. It is well known that
we have been charged with testing all men by the visions, and of making
them therule of our faith. This is a bold untruth, of which those
who uttered it were not ignorant. This I have denied, and deny it still.-RH,
Feb. 14, 1856, p. 158.
b. Some 15 years later, he
added that Adventists believed that God called her "to do a special work
at this time, among this people. They do not, however, make belief in this
work a test of Christian fellowship" (ibid,. June 13, 1871, p. 205;
cited in QOD, 97).
2. Ellen G. White herself was explicit on this point:
a. Speaking in 1862 of those who did not fully understand the gift, she wrote:
Such should not be deprived of the benefits and privileges of the church,
if their Christian course is otherwise correct, and they have formed a
good Christian character.-1T 328:0 (for a fuller statement, see especially
pp. 328, 329, and-in 1863-"Wrong Use of the Visions," pp. 382-84).
3. John Nevins Andrews: scholar of Hebrew and Greek, theologian, editor of the RH, and the first ("official") missionary to Europe (1874), and Advent Movement "founding father:"
a. We therefore do not test
the world in any manner by these gifts. Nor do we in our intercourse with
other religious bodies who are striving to walk in the fear of God, in
any way make these a test of Christian character.-RH, Feb. 15, 1870; cited
in QOD 97.
4. Uriah Smith: five times RH editor (for an aggregate of 41 yrs.), five times GC Secretary, author, poet, Battle Creek College Bible teacher:
a. But I have not believed,
as past volumes of the Reviewwill testify, that these, or any other
manifestation of spiritual gifts, stood on a level with the Scriptures,
or that they should be made a test of fellowship. I see as yet no occasion
to change my views in any of these respects.-RH Supplement, Aug. 14, 1883.
5. George I. Butler: twice GC President (1871-74; 1880-88):
a. Our enemies try very hard
to make it appear that we make the visions a test of fellowship. . . .
Our leading men have never done this, and the visions themselves teach
that it should not be done. . . . No; we do not make the visions a test,
and never have. But we do claim the right to believe them, to talk about
them freely, and to read them in private and in public, and shall no doubt
continue to exercise that right, regardless of the spite of those who hate
us.-"The Visions: How Are They Held Among S.D. Adventists," RH Supplement,
Aug. 14, 1883.
6. George A. Irwin: GC President (1897-1901), church administrator.
a. Irwin gives a qualified
"no," in his correspondence with Emily H. Humphrey, who in 1897 inquired
as to the church's position.
7. Francis M. Wilcox: author, an RH editor 35 years, appointed by EGW (in her last will and testament) as one of the first five Trustees of the White Estate:
a. In the practice of the
church it has not been customary to disfellowship one because he did not
recognize the doctrine of spiritual gifts. . . . A member of the church
should not be excluded from membership because of his inability to recognize
clearly the doctrine of spiritual gifts and its application to the second
advent movement.-The Testimony of Jesus [RH, 1944], pp. 141-43,
taken from Chapter 17: "Relation to Church Fellowship," pp. 136-43.
8. Selected SDA Church Leaders in 1957:
a. "A representative Group
of Seventh-day Adventist Leaders, Bible Teachers, and Editors" compiled
Adventists Answer Questions on Doctrine [RH: 1957] (QOD); Section III
dealt with "Questions on the Relation of Ellen G. White's Writings to the
Bible," pp. 87-98.
B. Reasons For Their Opposition
1. Church Pioneers' Historic Position: As noted above, this was the position of the early SDA pioneers, including JW and EGW.
a. J. N. Andrews reportedly held that there should be two tests of fellowship in the context of EGW's prophetic gift:
(1) Belief in the doctrine of spiritual gifts (as more fully explicated by Paul, chiefly in Rom. 12, 1 Cor. 12, and Eph. 4), which includes the gift of prophecy.
A willingness on the candidate for membership to become acquainted with
EGW's life and ministry.
2. Ellen G. White, per se, is nota doctrine-she is a person!
a. There are, of course, two Biblical doctrines closely associated with her gift and ministry, which, themselves, aretoday generally conceded to be tests of fellowship:
(1) Paul's doctrine of spiritual gifts (including prophecy).
A "remnant church," appearing in the end-time, which possesses within its
midst the prophetic gift.
3. The "Baptismal Vow" in the SDA Church Manual and Ministers' Manual:
a. On Dec. 29, 1930, the GC Committee voted that a statement of SDA beliefs be prepared by a committee of four (including GC president and RH editor).
(1) This first appeared in print in the 1931 SDA Yearbook, and the 1932 SDA Church Manual.
(2) At the 1946 GC Session it was voted that no revisions, in either the "Statement of Fundamental Beliefs," or any other portion of theChurch Manual, could be made except at a world session of the church.
(a) This position was reaffirmed at the 1990 GC Session on July 10 (GC Bulletin No. 6, July 12, 1990, p. 17).
(3) This non-creedal statement consisted of 22 sections (of which No. 19 dealt with the Spirit of Prophecy), with minor revisions, for some five decades (see above).
(4) At the 1980 GC Session, the delegates increased the enumerated statements of belief from 22 to 27; and revised the statement on the Spirit of Prophecy, moving it from its former position as No. 19, to a new No. 17 (see above).
b. With regard to a designated "Baptismal Vow," to be taken by candidates prior to receiving baptism:
(1) A purely "Suggestive Outline for Examination" appeared in the first edition of the Church Manual in 1932 (pp. 75-78), suggesting21 enumerated questions to be asked, Section 18 of which reads:
(a) "Do you believe the Bible doctrine of "spiritual gifts" in the church, and do you believe in the gift of the Spirit of prophecy which has been manifested in the remnant church through the ministry and writings of Mrs. E. G. White?" (P. 78).
(b) This recommended statement, further appeared unchanged in the second (1940) edition of the CM.
(2) The first formally-designated "Baptismal Vow" appeared initially in the CM's third edition in 1942.
(a) The earlier 21 interrogatories were now reduced to a mere 11.
(b) Interestingly, however, no reference whatever now appears anywhere concerning the doctrine of spiritual gifts or Ellen White! Just total silence!
(c) The 11th(and final) section of this new vow simply inquired: "Do you believe that the Seventh-day Adventist Church constitutes the remnant church, and do you desire to be accepted into its membership?" (p. 87).
(3) A change was made in the CM's 4thedition (1951):
(a) The interrogatories were increased from 11 to 13.
(b) And a new section 8 now inquires: "Do you accept the doctrine of spiritual gifts, and do you believe that the Spirit of prophecy is one of the identifying marks of the remnant church? (See pp. 34, 54)" [p. 57].
(c) This 1951 version now remained unchanged for three decades in succeeding editions of the CM until the revision of 1980.
(4) The General Conference Session of 1980 made only a cosmetic revision:
(a) "8. Do you accept the Biblical teaching of spiritual gifts, and do you believe that the gift of prophecy in the remnant church is one of the identifying marks of the remnant church?" (GC Bulletin #9, May 1, 1980, p. 28).
(5) The most recent revision of the vow (1990) was only minor:
(a) "8. Do you accept the biblical teaching of spiritual gifts and believe that the gift of prophecy is one of the identifying marks of that church?" (GC Bulletin #7, July 17, 1990, p. 15).
(6) The SDA Manual For Ministers (which, until 1992, included the "baptismal vow") reflected the 1951 Church Manual rendering in its 1954 edition (p. 86), and in its 1977 edition (p. 97). (However, the current  SDA Minister's Manual, fails to prescribe any baptismal vow, tending to downplay a pre-rite public examination of the candidates in favor of "a less public appraisal" by "the church board, elders, or some other small group designated by the church," in the declared interest of "putting the candidate at ease"-p. 190.)
(7) In view of the fact that no "official" version of the "Baptismal Vow" ever required candidates for baptism to declare public belief in Ellen White, there seems to be no documentary evidence that belief in her prophetic gift was ever intended to be made a test of fellowship.
(a) And the 1995 edition of the Church Manual pointedly reminds
its readers that no minister or church is at liberty to prescribe a test
of fellowship not formally contained in this "constitution" of the SDA
Church (p. 170).
III. Evidence of a Contemporary State of Flux Vis-a-Vis Belief in EGW
1. There is some documentary evidence of a fairly
recent two-way movement with regard to the position of whether or not belief
in Ellen White should be made a test of church fellowship.
A. The Change in the "Statement of Fundamental Beliefs"-A Step "Forward"?
1. As already noted above, in 1980 the "Statement of Fundamental Belief" concerning the Spirit of Prophecy was slightly amended to make reference to Mrs. White's name earlier in the statement, and thus more prominent and more explicit.
a. However, as also noted
above, the reference to Mrs. White in the "suggestive" "Baptismal Vow"
appeared only from 1932 to 1942. Since 1951, candidates for baptism have
been asked only to declare publicly their belief in two doctrines: "spiritual
gifts," and an end-time remnant church which possesses a gift of prophetic
B. Revision of the "Statement of Present Understanding" - A Step "Backward"?
1. A further development in mid-1982 and early 1983, which may or may not have significance, will now be noted:
a. "A Statement of Present Understanding" concerning "The Inspiration and Authority of the Ellen G. White Writings" (as revised June 14, 1982) was published in the July 15, 1982 edition of the Adventist Review, and in theMinistry of August, 1982.
(1) It contained ten "Affirmations" and ten "Denials" concerning what the framers felt to be the church's position on the unique nature of the EGW writings.
(2) It was originally prepared by an otherwise unidentified ad hoc committee of church leaders appointed by GC leadership.
(3) It was then given to the Biblical Research Committee to "fine-tune."
b. The revised draft was subsequently published in the Adventist Review of December 23, 1982, and in the Ministryof February, 1983.
(1) A comparison of the two drafts revealed that most revisions were purely cosmetic.
(2) Indeed, the only change of some significance was in the 9th "Affirmation."
(a) In the first published draft the text read:
(b) In the revised draft, the clause italicized above (for purposes of emphasis) in the original draft, was deleted.9. We believe that the acceptance of the prophetic gift of Ellen White, while not a requirement of continuing church membership, is important to the nurture and unity of the Seventh-day Adventist Church (emphasis supplied).
c. Does this change signal
a "reverse," a "drawing-back" for those who would make belief in Ellen
White a test of fellowship? Some might perhaps be inclined to reason thus.
IV. The Meaning and Content of a Test of Fellowship
A. The Quintessential Essence
1. A "test of fellowship" is notthe "maximum" requirement by means of which to gain admittance to a church; it is, rather, the "minimum" condition to be met by one desirous of church membership.
a. In one sense it may properly be viewed as a "license to grow within a clearly-defined religious community"-growth both in spirituality and in cognitive understanding.
2. It is a serious-though, unfortunately, common-mistake for one to equate a "test of fellowship" with a "test of eternal life"-a distinction cogently made by James White in his 1856 RH statement.
a. Church membership is not
now-and never has been-an instant "passport" to the courts of glory above!
B. A "Teaching" of the Church vs. a "Test" of the Church
1. In the October, 1951 edition of The Ministry (pp. 12, 13), an extremely helpful article published by then-General Conference President William Henry Branson ("What Are Our Tests of Fellowship?"). In it he drew a most significant distinction:
a. There are "teachings" of the church which, nevertheless, are not "tests" of the church.
b. And Dr. Calvin B. Rock,
in writing in the Nov. 28, 1991 edition of the Adventist Review
("Doctrines, Teachings, and Policies," p. 20) makes much the same point
as does Branson.
2. These "teachings" are generally in the area of behavioral-oriented church "standards."
a. Few loyal members would seriously argue that these should not continue to betaughtby the church.
b. But these not-test "teachings"
of the church should not, however, be enforcedupon the membership.
3. Examples of "teachings" that are not "tests:"
a. The Doctrine of Tithe-paying:
(1) Belief in the Biblical doctrinethat Christians should pay an honest tithe on their "increase" is a test of fellowship.
(2) But, as noted above, the act of payingone's tithe is not, in and of itself, a test of fellowship, for two obvious reasons:
(a) If it were, only gainfully-employed individuals could become- and remain-members of the church.
(b) And only God Himself knows whether the amount paid is an honest tithe or not!
b. Membership in a Trade Union:
(1) Ellen White repeatedly affirmed that SDAs should not join any labor union that existed in her day, or which might come into existence in the future (Lt 201, 1902; cited in 2SM 144-see entire section, pp. 141-144); and this is still "present truth"-official SDA teaching (though, admittedly, it is sometimes given rather short shrift by some SDA pastors and teachers).
(2) But we don't disfellowship SDA members who may join a union.
c. Membership in Secret Societies/Lodges:
(1) EGW also taught that SDAs could not conscientiously belong to secret societies or lodges, such as the Masonic Order, etc. (2SM 120-40).
(2) But we don't discipline SDA members who do join them.
d. Marriage of an SDA Member With a Non-SDA:
(1) Both Paul (2 Cor. 6:14) and EGW have warned Christians against the practice of contracting marriage with an unbeliever in Christ.
(a) Indeed, the very nature of such an alliance is, inherently, "unequal!"
(2) But if a church member marries a non-SDA, his/her church membership is in no way jeopardized.
(a) Now the church doesrule that a "mixed marriage" ceremonymaynot be performed in an SDA church sanctuary, and that an SDA minister may not so officiate.
(b) But when even these teachings are not followed, the offending minister, or member, is seldom disciplined.
e. Sending SDA Children to SDA Schools:
(1) It is a teaching of the church that SDA children and youth belong in SDA educational centers, whenever possible; and, indeed, the entire church is called upon to make this financially possible.
(a) EGW clearly instructs that the provision of affordable Christian education is the responsibility of the entire church, not merely that of just the parents of school-age children at any particular point in time!
(2) But neither parents nor children are disciplined if they still choose to ignore this counsel.
f. "Discouraging" the Wearing of a Wedding Band (in North America):
(1) It is still official North American Division policy to "discourage" the wearing of a wedding band by SDAs within North America.
(2) But the Church Manual prescribes no disciplinary penalties for the growing number of members who deliberately choose to do otherwise.
(a) And it declares, further, that conferences or local church congregations who apply any discipline by way of discriminatory policies are totally "out of harmony" with the church as a whole!
(b) In this, the church at large follows the example of the prophet, EGW, who left this matter solely at the door of individual personal conscience, by not making it a matter of legislation. (See Roger W. Coon's GSEM 534 Seminary lecture outline: "The Wedding Band, Ellen G. White, and the Seventh-day Adventist Church," rev. Dec. 10, 1987, 22 pp., available from the White Estate.)
(3) Indeed, allquestions related to dressare excluded from being tests of fellowship (Ev 215).
(1) Vegetarianism has long been a teaching of the church, world-wide; but those who-for whatever reason-choose a flesh diet are not disciplined.
(2) Some are surprised to learn that the eating of swine's flesh is nota test of fellowship!
(a) Wrote EGW in 1889: "...You must understand from Scripture that swine's flesh was prohibited by Jesus Christ [during the Exodus from Egypt]]....[Yet] this is not a test question" (Ms 15, 1889).
(b) To Elder and Mrs. S.N. Haskell (who were making the eating of pork a test of fellowship in New York City in 1858), she wrote: "I saw that your views concerning swine's flesh would prove no injury to yourselves; but in your judgment and opinion you have [wrongly] made this question a test" (1T 206, 207).
(3) Actually, the eating of anyflesh food-whether Levitically "clean" or "unclean"-cannot be a test of fellowship, according to EGW:
(a) "We are not to make the use of flesh food a test of fellowship" (9T 159).
(b) "...we do not make the use of meat a test...." (Lt 48, 1902; cited in CD 401, #715).
h. Animal Products and Caffeinated Beverages:
(1) The church continues to teach and urge that certain animal products (e.g., milk, butter, cheese, eggs, etc.), and caffeinated beverages (such as tea, coffee, cola drinks, etc.) not be used by members.
(2) But it has not made such abstention a test of fellowship.
(a) "The question whether we shall eat butter, meat, or cheese, is not to be presented to anyone as a test, but we are to educate and to show the evils of the things that are objectionable. Those who gather up these things and drive them upon others do not know what work they are doing."-Ms 5, 1881; cited in 3SM 287:1.
i. Farmers Raising Hops, Tobacco, or Swine:
(1) While the useof tobacco and alcohol weredeclared to be tests of fellowship by EGW, she nevertheless held that farmers who raise hops [an agricultural ingredient essential to the brewing of beer], or tobacco, or swine cannot be disciplined for this cause.
(2) While strongly recommending that SDAs not grow/raise these products, she held that "we should not urge this opinion upon any;" and to critics of such farmers she declared that "they have no right to make these things in any sense a test of fellowship" (2SM 338).
j. Belief in EGW as a Prophet of the Lord:
(1) And while EGW never disclaimed for herself the prophetic role(as distinct from the title), and while the church since her death has continued formally to reaffirm belief in her prophetic gift at every GC Session, yet she herself declared that such belief was not to be maintained as a test of fellowship:
(a) Those not convinced of the divine origin of her special gift "should not be deprived of the benefit and privileges of the church if their Christian course is otherwise correct, and they have formed a good Christian character" (1T 328, 329).
(b) "If persons are not settled in regard to the visions, they should not
be crowded of" (1T 383, 384).
C. The Church Manual and Official Grounds for Church Discipline
The 1995 SDA Church Manual identifies 11 basic reasons as suitable
grounds for church discipline (censure and/or removal of membership):
Reasons for Which Members Shall be Disciplined
Among the grievous sins for which members shall be subject to church discipline are the following:
1. Denial of faith in the fundamentals of the gospel and in the cardinal doctrines of the church or teaching doctrines contrary to the same.
2. Violation of the law of God, such as worship of idols, murder, stealing, profanity, gambling, Sabbathbreaking, and willful and habitual falsehood.
3. Violation of the seventh commandment of the law of God as it relates to the marriage institution, the Christian home, and biblical standards of moral conduct.
4. Such violations as fornication, promiscuity, incest, homosexual practice, and other gross sexual perversions, and the remarriage of a divorced person, except of the "innocent party" in a divorce for adultery or for gross sexual perversions.
5. Fraud or willful misrepresentation in business.
6. Disorderly conduct which brings reproach upon the cause.
7. Adhering to or taking part in a divisive or disloyal movement or organization. (See p. 164, "Self-appointed Organizations.")
8. Persistent refusal to recognize properly constituted church authority or to submit to the order and discipline of the church.
9. The use, manufacture, or sale of alcoholic beverages.
10. The use, manufacture, or sale of tobacco in any of its forms for human consumption.
11. The misuse of, or trafficking in, narcotics or
other drugs.-pp. 168, 169 (see also "Church Discipline," SDA Encyclopedia,
10BC : 365, 366).
V. Ellen White's Counsels Concerning Tests of Fellowship
A. Approved Tests
1. In connection with the "denial of faith in the fundamentals of the gospel and in thecardinaldoctrines of the church" (emphasis supplied), EGW wrote in 1881:
a. "The Word of God has given tests to His people" (Ms 5, 1891; cited in 3SM 287).
b. Let us notice some which
she specifically cites:
a. "The keeping of God's holy law, the Sabbath, is a test, a sign forever between God and His people, throughout their generations forever" (ibid.)
b. (It is well to note at
this point that lesser drastic discipline is called for when members violate
lesser, non-cardinal doctrines.)
a. "Christ's example forbids exclusiveness at the Lord's Supper. It is true that open sin excludes the guilty. This the Holy Spirit plainly teaches" (DA 656).
b. "Christ has plainly taught
that those who persist in open sin must be separated from the church, but
He has not committed to us the work of judging character and motive" (COL
4. "Guerilla Warfare" Against the Spirit of Prophecy:
a. Concerning church members who actively oppose the prophetic gift within the church, she wrote:
(1) If they fight against the visions, ... the church may know that they are not right.... When professed believers in the truth opposethese gifts, and fight againstthe visions, souls are in danger through their influence, and it is time then to labor with them, that the weak may not be led astray by their influence.-1T 328, 329; emphasis supplied.
(2) [If brethren in the church] of long experience in the truth, [who had for years] been acquainted with the influence of the visions, [and who] have tested the truthfulness of these testimonies, [and who had] asserted their belief in them, [were] when reproved through vision [to] rise up against them, and work secretly to injure our influence, they should be faithfully dealt with, for their influence is endangering those who lack experience.-1T 382, 383.
b. It is important to note here that if a church member should be disfellowshipped (or otherwise disciplined) by the local congregation of which he/she is a member, for such "guerilla warfare" against the life, work, or teachings of EGW, such discipline would notbe based upon what such person mightbelieve, but, rather, upon the subversive activities in which he/she were engaged-for "stirring up strife against brethren."
(1) No one has ever (legitimately, legally) been disfellowshipped for what he/she believed-or did not believe.
The discipline comes because of what one does with one's belief-the
consequent overt behavior!
B. Unapproved Tests
1. Minor, Trivial, Inconsequential Issues:
a. EGW was known to speak critically of "one-idea men" of her day who "had been bringing in false tests, and had made their own ideas and notions a criterion, magnifying matters of little importance into tests of Christian fellowship, and binding heavy burdens upon others" (Historical Sketches, pp. 211, 212; cited in Ev 216).
(1) "Pictures" [photographs], or clocks which had "figures" [pictures] upon the face of the clock, based upon the allegation that these were included in the prohibition against the worship of graven images as found in the Second Commandment of the Decalogue!
(a) [Some, in one locality] had gone so far as to burn all of the pictures in their possession, destroying even the likenesses [photographs] of their friends. While we had no sympathy with these fanatical movements, we advised that those who had burned their pictures should not incur the expense of replacing them. If they had acted conscientiously, they should be satisfied to let the matter rest where it was. But they ought not to require others to do as they had done. They should not endeavor to be conscience for their brethren and sisters.-ibid.
(2) Avoid Killing Insects: Another ridiculous triviality raised by some to the level of a test of fellowship was the ridiculous notion that the Sixth Commandment of God not to kill extended to any organism that possessed life-"even insects, however annoying or distressing they may be!" (RH, Aug. 13, 1901; cited in 1SM 170).
(a) Such issues were characterized by EGW as "matters of the smallest consequence,"
"idle tales...set us as tests," "trifling details," "side issues," "cheap,
unimportant theories," and as "nothingness" (ibid.).
1. It is unequivocally clear that all of the pioneers
of the SDA Church-including EGW herself-held that belief in her prophetic
gift should not be made a test of fellowship.
2. The pioneers did take the position that there were two Biblical doctrines, belief in which did constitute a test of fellowship:
a. The Pauline doctrine of spiritual gifts (which includes the gift of prophecy).
b. And a "remnant church" appearing in the end-time which itself would be identified by its possession of that particular gift.
3. The first "Statement of Fundamental [Doctrinal] Beliefs" was prepared in 1931, and published in the 1931 SDA Yearbook.
a. When the first edition of the SDA Church Manual was published in 1932, it was also published therein.
b. Action was taken by the GC in session in 1946 that any subsequent changes in either the "Statement of Fundamental Beliefs" (or any other portion of the Church Manual) could only be done by the world church in session.
And this action was reaffirmed by the GC Session of July 10, 1990.
4. The doctrinal statement concerning the Spirit of Prophecy remained virtually unchanged, from 1931 (when it was first formulated) until the GC Session of 1980, when it was amended to make more prominent the reference to EGW's name, linking her to the prophetic gift within the SDA Church.
a. However, every "Baptismal Vow" which has made reference to the Spirit of prophecy, from the first (in 1941) to the present, calls only for the candidate for baptism to affirm belief in the biblical doctrine of spiritual gifts, and belief that the prophetic gift is an identifying mark of the remnant church in the end time.
b. If, as some allege, the delegates to the 1980 GC Session somehow "overlooked" changing the wording of the baptismal vow statement on the Spirit of prophecy, correspondingly, to include Ellen White by name in the pledge taken by baptismal candidates, they had the opportunity to correct that singular omission in the successive Sessions of 1985, 1990, and 1995. But this they did not do.
And although several sections of the Baptismal Vow were revised
in 1990, no significant change was made by the delegates in the statement
dealing with the prophetic gift and the remnant church!
5. And the 1990 GC Session (on July 10) also reaffirmed that any change in the SDA Church Manual could only be made by the world church in session.
a. No church member, no congregation, nor any conference has any right to establish tests of fellowship other than those adopted by the world church in session.
b. Belief in Ellen White's gift of prophetic utterance still remains, very strongly, a "teaching" of the church; and we affirm most vigorously that it should continue to be taught within the church affirmatively, with diligence and vigor.
c. But, though a teaching, it never has been-nor is it now-a "test" of fellowship in our church.
Nor, in the opinion of this writer (and of many other concerned, conservative,
SDA ministers), should it ever be made a test.