Ellen G. White and Seventh-day Adventist Doctrines:
Her role in the development of distinctive beliefs
(This lecture outline is adapted from Roger W. Coon's lecture outline, "Ellen G. White and SDA Doctrine-Part I: God's FIRST Priority in the First 20 Years," April 18, 1995.)
Introduction: Ellen White and Seventh-day Adventist Doctrines
1. Contemporary questions concerning the existence and nature of Ellen G. White's doctrinal and prophetic "authority" continue to be raised:
a. Before this subject can fruitfully be addressed, however, one must first consider:
(1) How, where, and in what manner Seventh-day Adventist doctrines originated.
(2) The role of the Holy Spirit, through Ellen White, in that process.
2. Many Seventh-day Adventists generally suspects that Seventh-day Adventist doctrines find their genesis in the visions of Ellen White.
a. Typical of non-SDA opinion is that of G. H. Shriver, author of the article on "Seventh-day Adventism" in the Abingdon Dictionary of Living Religions (1981):
(1) "The source of authority for belief is the Bible, but the writings of Ellen White are held in such high esteem that for all practical purposes it is the Bible as interpreted by Ellen White" (p. 672).
3. Many are quite surprised (and even relieved!) upon learning that her visions are not the source of our doctrinal beliefs.
a. This is not to say that she did not have a role to play in the process--for she did.
b. But her role in doctrinal formation before 1850 was significantly different from that of after 1850.
4. Her role before 1850, before the doctrines were basically established, was largely to serve as a channel through which God, in a supernatural manner, directly corrected some errors or confusion in doctrines, and confirmed truth through her to the believers concerning that which He wanted them to know.
5. Her role after 1850, after the doctrines had been basically established, may be summarized as follows:
a. She explains, clarifies, amplifies meaning (and sometimes even defines):
(1) Sometimes exegetically.
(2) More often homiletically.
b. She interprets prophetic symbols.
c. She shows inter-relationships between various passages of Scripture (that we might not otherwise link together).
d. She provides extra-biblical (though not anti-biblical) detail.
e. She does not "exhaust" the meaning of Scripture:
(1) Her position on the meaning of a text does not, necessarily, preclude other positions--if they are non-contradictory (see "The inspiration and authority of the Ellen G. White writings," Ministry, August 1982.)
f. Yet, she often refused to read other doctrinal material in order that she may not be influenced by what others wrote.
"I have not been in the habit of reading any doctrinal articles in the paper [i.e. Review and Herald], that my mind should not have any understanding of any one's ideas and views, and that not a mold of any man's theories should have any connection with that which I write." (Letter 37, 1887, to A.T. Jones and E.J. Waggoner, February 18, 1887.)
I. Why doctrinal formation had to be the first priority in the 1840s
The ex-Millerites had to develop their position for two cogent reasons after October 22, 1844:
a. They had no message.
b. They had no audience.
A. The Ex-Millerites had NO MESSAGE After October 22, 1844
1. William Miller had had a message during the Second Advent Movement of the 1840s. This message was simple, basically evangelical, concise, and demanded a decision of its listeners. Its content included
a. A specific event: Jesus is coming back to earth, the righteous will be saved and taken to glory, and the earth ("sanctuary") will be "cleansed" by fire.
b. A specific time : at first "About 1843", later the Autumn 1844, and then October 22, 1844.
2. After October 22, the ex-Millerites were:
a. Disappointed, hurt, dispirited, disheartened.
b. Totally lacking in energy for further public labor.
c. Confused, theologically, in their thinking.
3. A substantial amount of time would be required before some ex-Millerites (those who would become the pioneers of the Seventh-day Adventist church) would develop understanding in three theological categories:
a. The Disappointment:
The continuing study of the newly developing ideas regarding the heavenly sanctuary and Christ's priesthood would eventually clarify that their date was right, but their event was wrong.
b. The 3rd Angel's message:
The continuing study of the new doctrine of the Sabbath would gradually lead them to an understanding and eschatological interpretation of the "beast," "image," and "mark" of Rev. 13 and 14. The Sabbath would unlock the mystery of the 3rd Angel's message.
c. The need for further evangelism:
Initially, many Millerites (including Miller) believed that probation had closed on October 22 for all non-Millerites (the "shut door" issue). It would take years of study and reflection before they came to understand that the probationary "door" was shut only for some on October 22.
4. Before these ex-Millerites could hope to go out with any degree of effective preaching, they must first have a new message; and before they could hope to achieve that, they faced a threefold task:
a. Slow, painstaking Bible study to penetrate the uncertainties which shrouded them, and to apprehend fully and further the inter-relationships between various doctrines - a body of truth had to be fitted together.
b. Understanding the threefold work of the Holy Spirit through Ellen G. White's visions:
To confirm Biblically-correct conclusions arrived at through prayer, diligent study of the Word, and fasting.
To correct, when they were wrong.
To suggest new initiatives, new directions, for further fruitful discovery, when at an impasse.
c. The writing out and publishing of conclusions reached from their Bible study:
Bates with his Sabbath tracts, pamphlets, books.
Edson-Crosier-Hahn, with their sanctuary position.
James White on various doctrines, in his Present Truth and Review and Herald.
5. And it was not until December 13, 1850, that EGW could finally write: "We know [now] that we have the truth" (Lt 30, 1850).
B. The Ex-Millerites Had NO AUDIENCE After Oct. 22, 1844
1. The disappointed Millerites were not at all ready to receive any message, even from within their own ranks, initially.
a. Most were totally preoccupied with managing very strong emotional feelings: crushing disappointment, acute social embarrassment, anger at God, for "misleading" or "deceiving" them, and distrust of their own reasoning powers and processes.
b. They were now very wary and determined, above all, never again to be so "duped," and "taken in."
c. Some went into wild fanaticism, strange "experiences," and false doctrines (including setting new dates for the Second Advent).
2. The rejecters of Miller's message, initially, were unapproachable after October 22:
a. The non-appearance of Jesus on October 22 served only to confirm and reinforce their unbelief or disbelief.
b. Their scorn and ridicule for the ex-Millerites now only increased.
c. The public, for several years, was totally unprepared to consider any revision of Millerite thinking with an attitude even approaching serious, respectful consideration.
3. The Millerites, first, had to "get their act together."
II. Joseph Bates' Theological Contributions to Sabbatarian
George Knight in his book Joseph Bates: The Real Founder of Seventh-day Adventism (RHPA 2004) explains how it was Joseph Bates who first articulated together the basic doctrines of early Seventh-day Adventism.
1. Bates' booklets
In August 1846, Bates published his first booklet, Seventh Day Sabbath, A Perpetual Sign. It is in his second edition published in January 1847 that for the first time "a major document linked together the Sabbath, the heavenly ministry of Christ, and the Second Advent into a theological package tied especially to Revelation 11:19 and Revelation 12:17 through the end of chapter 14" (Knight, 101). To this list of agreed doctrines among the few Adventists who formed the nucleus of what would become Seventh-day Adventism, we can also add the nonimmortality of the soul.
2. Early discussion
After the publication of Bates' second edition of Seventh Day Sabbath, Bates, James White, Hiram Edson and others began a series of discussions as they searched for the truth. It is likely this period of time that Ellen White had in mind when she wrote the following description of the events.
"Many of our people do not realize how firmly the foundation of our faith has been laid. My husband, Elder Joseph Bates, Father Pierce, Elder Edson, and others who were keen, noble, and true, were among those who, after the passing of the time in 1844, searched for the truth as for hidden treasure. I met with them, and we studied and prayed earnestly. Often we remained together until late at night, and sometimes through the entire night, praying for light and studying the word. Again and again these brethren came together to study the Bible, in order that they might know its meaning, and be prepared to teach it with power. When they came to the point in their study where they said, "We can do nothing more," the Spirit of the Lord would come upon me, I would be taken off in vision, and a clear explanation of the passages we had been studying would be given me, with instruction as to how we were to labor and teach effectively. Thus light was given that helped us to understand the scriptures in regard to Christ, His mission, and His priesthood. A line of truth extending from that time to the time when we shall enter the city of God, was made plain to me, and I gave to others the instruction that the Lord had given me.
"During this whole time I could not understand the reasoning of the brethren. My mind was locked, as it were, and I could not comprehend the meaning of the scriptures we were studying. This was one of the greatest sorrows of my life. I was in this condition of mind until all the principal points of our faith were made clear to our minds, in harmony with the word of God. The brethren knew that when not in vision, I could not understand these matters, and they accepted as light direct from heaven the revelations given. For two or three years my mind continued to be locked to an understanding of the Scriptures. [Special Testimonies Series B, 2, pp. 56-57]
The only time frame that statement fits in Ellen White's life was the period from mid-1847 to late 1849 or early 1850.
But as we have seen, all the major doctrines of Sabbatarian Adventism were already basically put in place by Joseph Bates in January 1847.
Then, what could have been Ellen White's role in the development of Seventh-day Adventist fundamental doctrines during these discussions between mid-1847 and early 1850?
III. The Role of the "Sabbath/Sanctuary" Conferences
1. Historically, the term "Sabbath Conferences" refers to a series of over twenty meetings held between April, 1848, and December, 1850, usually spanning long weekends, and generally located in New York, New England and Canada East.
a. Dr. C. Mervyn Maxwell, retired professor of church history, holds, however, that they should, instead, be designated as "Sabbath/Sanctuary" Conferences, because equal emphasis was placed upon both doctrines in these meetings.
Six were held in 1848 (with James White and Ellen White believed to have attended all six).
Six were held in 1849 (with James White and Ellen White believed to have attended at least three).
Ten were held in 1850 (with James White and Ellen White believed to have attended eight).
2. First 1848 conference was held April 20-24, 1848 in a "large, unfinished chamber," Albert Belden home, Rocky Hill, Connecticut.
Attendance: about 50.
Main speakers: James White; Joseph Bates, on law of God (2SG 93).
3. Second 1848 conference was held in August 18, 1848 in David Arnold's barn, Volney, NY.
Attendance: 35 ("all that could be collected in that part of the state").
Attitudes: Upon arrival, "hardly any two agreed" on any theological point.
Doctrinal differences: Some held that
(1) The millennium is already in the past.
(2) The 144,000 were those raised Easter Sunday by Christ in 31 AD.
(3) The Lord's Supper should be held only once annually, since it was the NT counterpart of the Passover.
(4) Christ had already returned, spiritually.
(5) Nothing happened in 1844.
Effect on Ellen White: she fainted, under intense emotional pressure and stress from discord; some thought her dead, but she revived. She was then taken into vision, where the Lord revealed some of the errors held by those present and God's truth, in contrast with those errors.
Upon departure: unity of understanding prevailed ("Our meeting ended victoriously. Truth gained the victory." 2SG 96-99).
4. Remaining 1848 Conferences were held in Port Gibson, NY (August); Rocky Hill, CT (September); Topsham, ME (October); and Dorchester, MA (November).
5. What produced the remarkable transformation from widespread theological disunity to Christian unity at these meetings? The activities of the participants--almost non-stop, and sometimes all night long:
a. Prayer for guidance and understanding ("so much prayer"-UL 152).
b. Hard, diligent, exhaustive Bible study ("such earnest searching of the Scriptures"-ibid.)
c. Earnest discussion.
6. Three results from these conferences:
a. They tended to establish those already in the truth.
b. They tended to awaken many not yet fully decided for the truth.
c. Development of consensus statements on doctrinal positions.
These meetings brought general agreement among Sabbatarian Adventists (probably still numbering only several hundred) on eight doctrines:
An imminent, personal, premillennial Second Advent.
The two-apartment High-Priestly ministry of Christ in the heavenly sanctuary, whose cleansing had commenced in 1844.
The seventh-day Sabbath is biblical and binding upon Christians.
The duty to proclaim the Three Angels' Messages of Rev. 14.
Conditional immortality: death is a dreamless sleep.
The timing of the Seven Last Plagues (after the Close of Probation).
The final, complete, annihilation of the wicked at the close of the millennium.
God's special supernatural enlightenment of Ellen G. White.
7. Role of the Holy Spirit through Ellen White in this discovery-of-truth process:
The visions tended to confirm or corroborate, when they were on the right track; or to correct, when they were on the wrong track; or to suggest new initiatives, when they were at an impasse, unable to go further.
The visions were not a substitute for hard work, study, prayer, individual initiative. Generally, Ellen White did not initiate, taking the lead as far as doctrine was concerned.
If, the early pioneer had crystallized their doctrines before the beginning of the Sabbath/Sanctuary conferences in 1848, and in fact already had an articulated Sabbatarian Adventist theology in Joseph Bates' second edition of Seventh Day Sabbath, then what contributions did Ellen White's visions make "regarding truth and duty"?
George Knight answers: "Since it was obviously not the central doctrines, her contributions must have involved points of clarification in regard to certain biblical ideas and duties. Two such contributions . . . come to mind. One concerned the meaning of the "angel ascending from the east, having the seal of God"--a point that Bates and the others had been struggling with. . . . A second item had to do with her November 1848 publishing vision in which she told her husband of his responsibility to print a little paper whose influence would eventually go clear around the world. . . . Those were the types of controversial issues that Ellen White's visions brought to closure in the period running from mid-1847 to late 1849" (Joseph Bates, p. 103; see also p. 116, 153).
IV. Three Reasons why post-Millerite Adventists tended to accept the authenticity of Ellen White's prophetic gift
A. Physical Phenomena Occurring When Ellen White Was in Vision
1. It was dramatically impressive; it grabbed attention in a most effective manner.
When in vision, Ellen White: Invariably she did not breathe and upon at least five occasions, she held a large, heavy Bible in an unsupported, outstretched hand.
2. As in apostolic times, the divine purpose was to play a special role in confirming the supernatural origin of the phenomenon until sufficient time had elapsed for fruitage to develop.
3. A Caution: physical phenomena, while indeed an "evidence" of supernatural activity, is still not "proof" that the person is an authentic prophet of the Lord!
It does not validate its origin: whether it is from the Holy Spirit or from the devil. Satan can, does, and will yet manifest supernatural miracles.
Ellen White has warned that supernatural miracles will especially be employed in the very end-time in an attempt to prove that error is truth.
Margaret Rowen, an SDA false prophet in the 1920s, did not breathe while in vision--and that one thing probably convinced more SDAs that she was a true prophet than any other single factor.
Physical phenomena is an "evidence" that something supernatural is happening; it is not "proof" that what is happening comes from God.
B. The Content of the visions: Two chief characteristics
1. The visions were relevant: the content dealt with urgent problems immediately at hand which required urgent solutions.
2. The visions were also helpful: they were not only relevant, but they also tended to provide viable solutions needed to resolve these immediate problems.
C. The Mental state of Ellen White at the conferences when she was not in vision
1. During these meetings, which spanned a three-year period of time, when EGW was not in vision, she was totally unable to enter into the theological discussions as to what the true position was, or even the meaning of her own vision content!
She reported "My mind was locked" (1SM 207).
2. She could relate only that which she had seen and heard, and no more.
She could not explain, clarify, amplify, or answer questions upon any point.
She could not enter into the discussions of the group as to what the vision might mean.
3. This condition continued (during the actual time of the meetings) for a three-year period, "until all the principal points of our faith were made clear."
At age 77, in retrospect, she characterized this experience as "one of the greatest sorrows of my life"--not to be able to enter into the group discussions as our doctrines were being developed and formulated.
4. But--precisely because of this singular situation--"the brethren... accepted as light direct from heaven the revelations given" (1SM 207). And this special manifestation of the Holy Spirit brought unity into the ranks of Advent Sabbath-keepers.
IV. Ellen G.White's relationship to the "pillar" doctrines of the Seventh-day Adventist Church
Following the Minneapolis General Conference session she wrote this commentary on what happened then:
"In Minneapolis God gave precious gems of truth to His people in new settings. This light from heaven by some was rejected with all the stubbornness the Jews manifested in rejecting Christ, and there was much talk about standing by the old landmarks. But there was evidence they knew not what the old landmarks were. There was evidence and there was reasoning from the word that commended itself to the conscience; but the minds of men were fixed, sealed against the entrance of light, because they had decided it was a dangerous error removing the "old landmarks" when it was not moving a peg of the old landmarks, but they had perverted ideas of what constituted the old landmarks."
"The passing of the time in 1844 was a period of great events, opening to our astonished eyes the cleansing of the sanctuary transpiring in heaven, and having decided relation to God's people upon the earth, [also] the first and second angels' messages and the third, unfurling the banner on which was inscribed, "The commandments of God and the faith of Jesus." One of the landmarks under this message was the temple of God, seen by His truth-loving people in heaven, and the ark containing the law of God. The light of the Sabbath of the fourth commandment flashed its strong rays in the pathway of the transgressors of God's law. The nonimmortality of the wicked is an old landmark. I can call to mind nothing more that can come under the head of the old landmarks. All this cry about changing the old landmarks is all imaginary." (Mss 13, 1889 in CW 30-31)
1. Ellen White variously identified the "pillar," "landmark," "foundation" doctrines of the Seventh-day Adventist Church as:
a. The Second Coming of Christ.
b. The Heavenly Sanctuary (including Christ's high-priestly ministry therein).
c. "Soul Sleep" (conditional immortality; the non-immortality of the wicked).
d. The Seventh-day Sabbath, and the immutabiblity of the Ten Commandments.
e. The Three Angels' Messages. (see CW 28-32).
2. What was her personal relationship to these doctrines? What was her role in their origin and development? Was she and her visions the source of our doctrines?
No! as we have seen our doctrines did not originate in either her visions or in her writings!
Her role, largely, was to come after those pioneers which had more prominently popularized them, and set the imprimatur of heaven upon them.
A. The Second Advent of Christ
1. Ellen White heard William Miller preach this doctrine in Portland, ME, in 1840, and again in 1842, when she was a child of 12 and 14 years, respectively.
She, with her parents, accepted this doctrine as taught solely from Scripture. And they were subsequently disfellowshipped from the Methodist Church because of their stand.
2. Ellen White's role as a "special messenger," vis-à-vis this doctrine, was largely that of validating the prior Biblical teaching of Miller, Joshua V. Himes, Charles Fitch, Josiah Litch, Joseph Bates, and others who promulgated it.
The doctrine of Christ's Second Advent hardly originated with Ellen White!
B. The Heavenly Sanctuary
1. Ellen White's first written statement upon this subject came about a year after the conclusions of Hiram Edson, O.R.L. Crosier, and Dr. Frederick Hahn had been written out by Crosier and published in the Day-Star, and Day-Dawn. George Knight comments:
"Ellen Harmon's . . . early visions also touched upon the topic of the sanctuary. Her first vision (December 1844) dealt with the validity of the seventh-month movement . . . rather than the sanctuary. But in early 1845 she reported another vision in which she 'saw the Father rise from the throne, and in a flaming chariot go into the holy of holies within the veil, and sit down' at the beginning of the second phase of Christ's heavenly ministry (see EW 14, 15, 54-56). While Ellen Harmon's vision harmonized with the Bible-based conclusions of Crosier and others, we must remember that she had no authority in Adventism at that time. She was basically unknown to the major players in the developing sanctuary theology. To them she was merely a 17-year old girl claiming to have visions amidst the conflicting voices of a shut door Adventism literally overrun by a multitude of individuals claiming charismatic gifts. It would take time to separate the genuine from the false in the chaotic conditions of the post-Disappointment Adventism of 1845" (In Search of Identity, p. 65).
Her role was largely to validate the conclusions of these brethren, not to initiate.
2. During her ministry, but particularly in the later years, she repeatedly urged our members to read articles upon this subject written by the pioneers of the Advent Movement.
In 1983, Paul A. Gordon, then associate secretary of the White Estate, collected 400+ articles (the Table of Contents itself runs 16 pp.) on the Sanctuary doctrine (plus related topics: Dan. 8:14; the Judgment; the 2300-Days; the Year-Day Principle, and the Atonement) published between 1846 and 1905; and he produced an anthology of 1,009 pages (still in print and available from the White Estate).
Although Ellen White received 11 visions on the subject of the heavenly sanctuary between 1845-51, she always referred church members to the articles by the pioneers. And, interestingly, not one of the pioneers appealed to these 11 visions as "proof" of the validity of this doctrine! Ellen White was not even mentioned in their articles! Their evidence and arguments were drawn solely from the Scriptures! Uriah Smith appealed to these very same articles to refute critics and to "prove"--from the Bible, and the Bible alone--the validity of this doctrine, never to Ellen White.
C. "Soul-Sleep" (Conditional Immortality; the Non-Immortality of the Wicked)
1. George Storrs [1796-1879], a Methodist minister who became a Millerite preacher in 1842, was the first in Millerism to write in advocacy of the unconscious state of humans in death.
He coined the expression "soul-sleep."
In 1841 he wrote An Enquiry: Are the Souls of the Wicked Immortal? In Three Letters.
2. Storrs' ideas influenced Eunice Harmon, Ellen White's mother, who shared them with daughter Ellen (about 1842), when the latter was about 15 years of age. Ellen's initial reaction was one of strong disapproval; but after a careful study of the Biblical evidence, she accepted it (1T 39, 40).
After entering upon her prophetic ministry, she became a strong advocate of Storrs' "Soul-Sleep" doctrine of conditional immortality, and she considered it to be one of the half-dozen "pillar" doctrines of the SDA Church (Ms. 13, 1889; cited in CW 30, 31).
Her role in promoting it, however, was largely in the nature of endorsing Storrs' views; she did not break any "new ground."
D. The Sabbath
1. The doctrine of the Sabbath.
This doctrine was first brought to the attention of ex-Millerites by Joseph Bates.
Bates, in turn, was strongly influenced by studying the work of T. M. Preble, and in discussions with Rachel Oaks-Preston (a Seventh Day Baptist) and Frederic Wheeler.
When Bates first approached Ellen White on the Sabbath doctrine, her initial reaction was negative (as was, also, Bates' initial reaction when first told that she had been given a genuine prophetic gift!)
Both, however, changed their respective opposition, on the basis of coercive Bible-based evidence.
2. The observance of the Sabbath.
James and Ellen White initially observed the Sabbath on the basis of their study of the Bible, not because she had had a vision on the subject showing it to be the right day!
A copy of Bates' tract on the Sabbath was given to them about the time of their marriage, Aug. 30, 1846. They accepted the Sabbath on the basis of Bible proof alone.
The first vision dealing with the sacredness of the seventh-day Sabbath (and also of the existence of the heavenly sanctuary) was given April 3, 1847, seven months after the Whites had commenced its observance on the basis of Bible evidence alone, and three months after Bates published the second edition of his book Seventh Day Sabbath (cf. Lt 2, 1874; cited in EW 323-35).
3. The time to begin the observance of the Sabbath.
This issue was not settled among Sabbatarian Adventists until November 1855.
Four views coexisted among them during the 1840s and early 1850s:
(1) The Sabbath begins at sunrise Saturday morning (based upon a misinterpretation of Mat 28:1, which they interpreted to mean that Sunday begins at sunrise Sunday morning).
(2) The Sabbath begins at midnight Friday night-"legal time."
(3) The Sabbath beings at 6 p.m. Friday ("equatorial time"), a position favored by sea-captain Bates, who knew that the sun rises daily at 6 a.m., and sets daily at 6 p.m., upon the equator.
(4) The Sabbath begins at sunset on Friday; the Seventh Day Baptist position.
John Nevins Andrews, then only 26 years of age (but a scholar who could readily read the original Hebrew of the OT and the Greek of the NT) was commissioned by church leaders to study the matter out from Scripture, and write a research paper to be read at a General Conference gathering in Battle Creek in November 1855.
On the basis of 11 OT texts and 2 in the NT, Andrews concluded that the proper time to begin the Sabbath was sunset on Friday (his sermon is recorded in the RH, 4 December 1855).
Bates initially held out for "equatorial time," and Ellen White initially sided with Bates.
Two days later, however, Ellen White received a vision correcting her position, which she subsequently shared with the other believers at the early morning service the following day (Arthur L. White, Messenger to the Remnant, 36; 1T 116; George Knight, Joseph Bates, 161).
E. The Three Angels' Messages of Revelation 14
1. William Miller and his associates preached only the First Angel's Message (1839-44). They never really went beyond it in any major way.
2. Charles Fitch seems to have been the first to attempt to preach the Second Angel's Message, on 26 July 1843, some 15 months before the Great Disappointment. It never really "caught on" among Millerite preachers, however.
Previously, Protestants had tended to identify the Church of Rome with Spiritual Babylon as identified in the Book of Revelation.
Fitch broadened the category to include contemporary Protestants who had turned from the doctrine of an imminent Second Advent, or were merely "warmly" in favor of it. (See LeRoy Edwin Froom, The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers, 4: 543, 544; EGW incorrectly dates the first preaching of this message to the summer of 1844, in GC 389.)
3. Among Sabbatarian Adventists Joseph Bates was the first one, in his second edition of Seventh Day Sabbath (January 1847) to articulate a theology of inter-connected doctrines including the Sabbath, the Second Advent of Christ, and the Three Angels' Messages.
4. Ellen White's role, basically, was to endorse the preaching of all three messages as presented by other previous speakers and writers.
1. Early Adventist pioneers and Ellen White did not refer to her visions to "prove" the validity of the Seventh-day Adventist doctrines which she espoused and taught.
2. She did, however, have this to say about those foundational "pillar" doctrines:
a. "The past fifty years have not dimmed one jot or principle of our faith as we received the great and wonderful evidences that were made certain to us in 1844, after the passing of the time. The languishing souls are to be confirmed and quickened according to His Word. . . . Not a word is to be changed or denied. That which the Holy Spirit testified to as truth after the passing of the time, in our great disappointment, is the solid foundation of truth. [The] pillars of truth were revealed, and we accepted the foundation principles that have made us what we are--Seventh-day Adventists, keeping the commandments of God and having the faith of Jesus" (Letter 326, 4 December 1905; cited in UL 352).
b. "We are to stand firm as a rock to the principles of the Word of God, remembering that God is with us to give us strength to meet each new experience. Let us ever maintain the principles of righteousness in our lives, that we may go forward from strength to strength in the name of the Lord. We are to hold as very sacred the faith that has been substantiated by the instruction and approval of the Spirit of God from our earliest experience until the present time..." (Letter 66, 28 August 1911; cited in UL 254).
3. What contributions did Ellen White make beyond confirmation?
Over time she provided a theological framework, a worldview. Her conceptual themes of the love of God and the great controversy between good and evil have provided Seventh-day Adventists with an interpretive theological framework to understand Scripture.
Other Christian churches have such frameworks of theological interpretation to articulate their doctrines and teachings: Augustinian/Calvinist and Aristotelian/Thomist frameworks are two examples.
Ellen White's doctrinal authority lies largely in this worldview.
George R. Knight, A Search for Indentity: The Development of Seventh-day Adventist Beliefs (RHPA 2000), pp. 65, 97, 127, 138-141, 184-189.
George R. Knight, Joseph Bates: The Real Founder of Seventh-day Adventism (RHPA 2004), pp. 101-103, 116, 153-154, 161-162.