IV. The Question of Ellen G. White's Visions
Beliefs in Visions Made a Test of Faith
Adventist preachers such as Bartlett sought to overcome anti-organization sentiment by uniting all the churches to Battle Creek and the Whites. But, until legal organization, the necessity of accepting Ellen G. White's visions was not emphasized. Then the visions were indeed made a test.
In 1862, Uriah Smith, a leading Seventh-Day Adventist writer, wrote an article in the Review captioned "The Visions a Test." Smith clearly states that to have union with the true church, you must believe in the visions:
The perpetuity of the [spiritual] gifts is one of the fundamental points in the belief of this people and with those who differ with us here we can have union and fellowship to no greater extent than we can have with those who differ with us in the other important subjects of the coming of Christ, baptism, the Sabbath, etc. . . . It is a fact that those who reject the gifts do not have true union with the body. From the very nature of the case, they cannot have it.1
The major reason why Sabbath Adventists split into two groups was the visions of Ellen G. White.
Reason for Mrs. White's Visions
According to the Seventh-Day Adventists, Mrs. White's visions were to "perfect the church and bring them to the unity of the faith Ephesians 4:13."2 The visions were said to correct members from wrong practices or beliefs.
Early opposers to the Whites, including the Church of God in Marion, Iowa, saw the visions in a different light: they were primarily feigned to enable the Whites to gain control of the church.
D.M. Canright, an early Seventh-Day Adventist, was a close associate of the Whites. Canright left them in the 1880's because he saw that "Elder and Mrs. White ran and ruled everything with an iron hand. Not a nomination to office, nor a resolution, not an item of business was ever acted upon in business meetings till all had been first submitted to Elder White for his approval. . . . [and Mrs. White's] revelations always favored Elder White and herself. If any dared question their course, they soon received a scathing revelation [based on a vision] denouncing the wrath of God against them." Canright painted a picture of a "coldly legalistic" Seventh-Day Adventist church governed by the fear of going against the "divine testimonies" of its "prophetess."3
Canright too was the victim of its iron rule, forced to confess that he had been "blinded by Satan" for opposing the Whites' will. For years, Canright maintained, in the late 1860's, the main business at important meetings was the complaints of Elder White against leading ministers.
Jacob Brinkerhoff, a Church of God leader, one time editor of the Bible Advocate, expressed a less critical view of the reason for her visions: they were the product of an unhealthy mind and body.4
From her childhood, when she was struck in the head by a rock and was in a coma for days, until later life, Mrs. White suffered nervous and physical disorders. Later, when her health improved, her visions were less frequent and not as intense.
Regardless as to the cause - and the source - of Ellen G. White's visions, their content naturally led to controversy. The content of many of them was to prove a constant source of embarrassment, and potential source of opposition to Seventh-Day Adventists. And even more were Mrs. White's visions a source of conflict among Sabbath Adventists in the 1850's and 1860's by those who never accepted them in the first place but were subjected to extreme pressure to accept the "gifts of the Spirit" from a woman "prophetess," or be forever out of the "true Church" and bereft of salvation.5
Only One Church - Hers
Ellen G. White's visions consistently held that God was working only through her and her church group. And as for others, "Satan has taken full possession of the churches as a body."6
Her church was the only true church, and it was the end time church of the Laodiceans: "The Laodicean church is the church of Christ for the period in which we live, and He has no other. Those who renounce membership in the Laodicean church place themselves outside the fold of Christ."7
Shut Door Later Opened
For several years, the White party taught that after 1844 the time of salvation for sinners was past.8
Ellen G. White's visions supporting the shut door idea were later explained away and altered, to make the way open for increases in church membership. Yet once again, because of diametrically altering their position, both occasions supposedly due to the result of visions, the White party left themselves open to opposition and skepticism.
1844 Error Never Admitted
Though other Adventist groups admitted the gross error in assuming that October 22, 1844 was the date of the return of Christ to the earth, the group that later developed into Seventh-Day Adventists never recanted, but instead changed their interpretation of what happened prophetically on that date. For them, on October 22, 1844, Christ cleansed the heavenly sanctuary and began His work of "Investigative Judgment." This was based on the vision of Adventist Hiram Edson in 1844, quickly accepted by the White group.
The "Sanctuary Question" was openly opposed by many within the Sabbath Adventist movement, and later continued to be a source of controversy between Seventh-Day Adventists and the Church of God.
The most obvious point advanced by opponents of the Seventh-Day Adventist position is that the Day of Atonement for 1844 was on September 23, not October 22. So whatever their supposed interpretation of prophecy in 1844, Seventh-Day Adventists have the wrong date to start with, for the supposed cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary is tied by them to the Day of Atonement.
The Adventist Sanctuary position is as follows: "Christ did not make the atonement when He shed His blood upon the cross. Let this fact be fixed forever in the mind."9
Until October 22, 1844, Christ was in the first, or outer, compartment of the heavenly sanctuary. Man's sins, represented by the blood of Christ, were transferred to the heavenly sanctuary's second compartment - the holy of holies - thus defiling it. Christ's blood was then defiling the heavenly sanctuary. And, on October 22, 1844 (the supposed fulfilling of Daniel 8:14, "Unto 2,300 days; then shall the sanctuary be cleansed") Christ entered the second compartment in heaven and cleansed it, and began His Investigative Judgment preparatory to His return to cleanse the earth with fire and take the saints to Heaven.10
Numerous obvious objections were raised against the White Party's interpretations of prophecy from the earliest days of their movement. Based as they were, and supported by, Ellen G. White's visions, rejection of the 1844 prophetic beliefs led naturally to a rejection of Mrs. White's visions.
One of the more notorious examples of Mrs. White's dubious quotation of scripture, is found in her most famous work, The Great Controversy. She quotes only part of Isaiah 24:6 to "prove" that at Christ's coming, all the wicked will be destroyed on the earth, leaving the earth desolate during the millennium, while the saints are supposed to be taken to Heaven. Yet the rest of the verse states that there will be a few men left.11
These and other objections have continually been raised by many who have confronted Seventh-Day Adventist doctrine.
1856 Vision Proven False
Ellen G. White wrote in her Testimonies for the Church that "At the General Conference at Battle Creek, May 27, 1856, I was shown in vision some things which concern the church generally; . . . I was shown the company present at the Conference. Said the angel, 'Some food for worms, some subjects of the seven last plagues, some will be alive and remain upon the earth to be translated at the coming of Jesus'."12
All of the people alive at that conference have died, presenting a serious question as to the authenticity of Mrs. White's visions.
Meat, Milk, Butter, Cheese, Eggs Condemned
The health ideas of the White Party did not come to be clearly expressed until 1860 and the formation of the Seventh-Day Adventist church. They too were based upon visions ("testimonies") and were rigidly stressed, at least in the early days of the movement.
Mrs. White's visions gave "positive testimony against tobacco, spirituous liquors, snuff, tea, coffee, flesh-meats, butter, spices, rich cakes, mince pies, a large amount of salt, and all exciting substitutes used as articles of food."13
Yet she was said to have eaten butter and meat for at least twenty years after she wrote this (1872).14 In her testimonies, she stated that cheese should never be eaten, and "eggs should not be placed upon your table."15
Besides the discouragement of meat and milk products, and eggs, Mrs. White's visions discouraged marriage. "In this age of the world," she stated, "as the scenes of earth's history are soon to close, and we are about to enter upon the time of trouble such as never was, the fewer marriages contracted, the better for all, both men and women."16
The food and marriage issues bring to mind Paul's prophetic statement in his letter to Timothy: "Now the Spirit speaks expressly, that in the latter times, some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats which God has created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth," I Timothy 4:1-3.
Controversies Surrounding Visions
Mrs. White's visions supported the idea that Christ was crucified on a Friday and resurrected on a Sunday, despite the fact that this idea weakened the Seventh-Day Adventist pro-Sabbath stance and is contrary to the Bible.
Visions further supported the idea of a Trinity, which early American Sabbatarians, and the Church of God, rejected.
Because Mrs. White was originally a Methodist, she was probably led to continue the practice of observing communion quarterly. The Church of God observed it once a year, on the Jewish Passover.
These and other doctrines of the Seventh-Day Adventists have been hotly disputed by the Church of God (Seventh Day).
Visions a Test - Opposers Labeled Fanatics
Since 1860, being a Seventh-Day Adventist has virtually been synonymous with adhering to the visions of Ellen G. White. In the first Seventh-Day Adventist Church Manual, published in 1932, one of the twenty-one questions ministers were to ask every candidate for baptism and membership was: "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 writing of Mrs. Ellen G. White?"17
Visions were - and are - a test. Those who refused to accept them in the 1860's and earlier were labeled by the Seventh-Day Adventists as "fanatics." In the early years of the Church of God, the visions were perhaps the major issue of dispute.
"Fanatics" From the White Point of View
Throughout the 1850's and 1860's, the Whites mentioned in their publications the existence of opposers to them. Even the Whites had to admit that far from all of the Sabbath keeping people accepted the visions and their form of organization. The opposition was not localized, but spread from New England to western New York, Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois.
James White reports that he and Mrs. White faced opposition from "fanatics" when they traveled to Johnson, Vermont in May of 1850. Libbey and Bailey were outspoken against the visions. Bailey was reported as stating: "The Lord does not want your testimony here. The Lord does not want you here to distract and crush his people!" White reports that upon this denunciation, the "power of God filled the room," and Bailey fell over backward, and the opposers left the meeting house.18
In the fall of 1853, during several conferences of believers in New York, Vermont, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire, the Whites noted numerous elements of "strife and rebellion" against them.19 It was about this time that the Messenger Party came into being with its firm opposition to the Whites.
Shortly after the 1854 failure (another date set by some Adventists), Mrs. White wrote that "a spirit of fanaticism has ruled a certain class of Sabbath-keepers [in the East] . . . . Some are not in harmony with the body . . . [and have] fanciful views."20
Still before the 1860 name change, in the spring of 1858, the Whites visited Ohio. A certain man, H. (it was a common practice of the Whites in their publications not to give the full name of their opponents, but only their initial), was reproved by Mrs. White in a vision. He had said he believed in her visions, but that she was influenced by others in writing them. This she stated was warfare against the Holy Spirit. Many in Ohio were rejecting the Whites. "The brethren in Ohio have been encouraged to look with distrust and suspicions at those who are in charge of the work at Battle Creek, and have stood prepared to rise against the body, and stood independent. Further west, a certain brother and sister R. were said to have the spirit of the Messenger Party."21
Wisconsin Opposers to Visions
In her early written Testimonies, Mrs. White gave reproof of brother G. in Wisconsin, the chief leader of "fanaticism" in that state. After the 1860 "organization," Wisconsin opposition to the Seventh-Day Adventists was still strong, especially in the northern portion of the state. A Review article stated that "This strange fanaticism in Wisconsin grew out of the false theory of holiness, advocated by Brother K., - a holiness not dependent upon the Third Angel's Message, but outside of present truth." Sister G. had received this theory from K., who carried it to others as well.
On August 3, 1861, Mrs. White had visions about the "divisions" in northern Wisconsin. "Some receive a part of the message, and reject another portion. Some accept the Sabbath, and reject the Third Angel's Message. They are not responsible to any one. They have an independent faith of their own." Further, it was apparent, they were drawing followers away from the Whites, to the Age-to-Come idea.22
Washington, New Hampshire - Ball's Opposition
At Washington, New Hampshire, the site of the original group of Adventists who accepted the Sabbath, considerable opposition to the Whites persisted, led by a brother Ball. Mrs. White states in her written Testimonies that Ball had been "strengthening the hands of our enemies by holding the visions up to ridicule, and publishing bitter things against us in the Crisis [Advent Christian magazine] of Boston, and in the Hope of Israel [Church of God, or Church of Christ], a paper issued in Iowa." In 1867 at Washington, Mrs. White reproved Ball, who tearfully confessed he had been a backslider and had been influenced by Satan.
Ball's confession, published in the July 7, 1868 Review, gave his revised feelings about Seventh-Day Adventists: "Who are the most humble, devoted self-sacrificing, godly persons to be found among Sabbath-keepers? Do they comprise that class who are doubting, halting, . . . disbelieving, and fighting the visions? Certainly not. This class are noted for their selfishness, their worldly-mindedness, and their lack of consecration to God and his cause. They are lukewarm, the half-hearted, the backslidden class, among Sabbath-keepers. This fact alone should teach us that God is in this work, and no weapon raised against it can prosper. My own sad experience has taught me that it is spiritual death to doubt or oppose any part of this work. God's hand is set to the work, and it is destined to triumph, although men and devils may oppose."23
Ball had been a chief opponent, but now had recanted. Yet even in Michigan, where Seventh-Day Adventists had organized, a group of Sabbath-keepers who never accepted the visions and who held to the name Church of God continued to exist and oppose the attempt of the Whites to take all of the Sabbath Adventists with them. The title of their paper, which began in 1863, showed the difficulty of their task and the smallness of their power: it was entitled, The Hope of Israel. W
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