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As a few people, including my fellow Adventist historian David Trim, have figured out, I am working toward a series on the development of an Adventist perspective about women in ministry leading up to the 1881 General Conference Session. Who were the women in ministry that they debated about? I have to admit being a little worried the past few weeks with the NAD ordination study committee recommendation. So far, my article on this early period, I believe will make a contribution. As I continue to work on my own article, I'm increasingly convinced of the importance of studying primary sources. What did the actual pioneers of the Seventh-day Adventist Church say about women in ministry? I've highlighted so far an article by J. N. Andrews, also from 1879. Now it is time to take note of what James White, husband of Ellen G. White, had to say about "Women in Church" from the May 29, 1879, issue of the Review and Herald (pg. 172). (keep in mind that you need the free DjVu reader in order to view this article).
Women in the Church
“Let your women keep silence in the churches; for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they will learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home; for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.” 1 Cor. 14:34, 35.
The only safe and proper rule of Biblical interpretation is to take every passage of the Book of God as meaning what it says, word for word, excepting those cases where the text and context clearly show that a figure or parable is introduced for a more clear elucidation of the subject. In the foregoing text the apostle does not use as figure or a parable, therefore his words should be taken as meaning
just what they say.
But there are many other passages from the epistles of Paul which speak as plainly of the position of woman in the house and work of God as this one does. And in order to arrive at the truth of God on this subject, a position must be found that will harmonize all the texts. The word of God is not ‘yea and nay,” but yea and amen, to the glory of its divine Author.
Paul, in the fourteenth chapter of his epistle to the church at Corinth, is correcting existing errors and establishing order in the church of Christ. He goes even so far as to give rules for those who, under the power of the Holy Spirit, are endowed with the gift of prophecy and of tongues. There were those women, doubtless, in the apostle’s day as well as in ours, who could prate about “Women’s Rights,” as glibly, if not as fithily, as the notorious Victoria Woodhull. Hear the noble Paul on the subject in the same epistle where the foregoing text is found: “But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is
God.” 1 Cor. 11:3. Paul continues in verses 4 and 5, and the reader will see that he places men and women side by side in the position and work of teaching and praying in the church of Christ, “Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoreth his head. But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoreth her head; for that is even all one as if she were shaven.”
But what does Paul mean by saying, “Let your women keep silence in the churches”? Certainly he does not mean that women should take no part in those religious services where he would have both men and women take part in prayer and in prophesying, or teaching the word of God to the people. The only view that will harmonize all that the apostle has said of the position and work of Christian women, is that he is giving directions relative to meetings of the church to consider the secular matters, which can be managed quite as well by the brethren as the sisters. We here give the following reasons:—
1. Both men and women attend the religious services of the church. Both hear all that is said. The woman understands quite as well as her husband, sometimes better, all that is said. They return home from church. Now apply Paul’s statement to this case, “If they will learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home.” On the supposition that the husband has been out to a business meeting, may be to consult with his brethren in reference to building a meeting-house, or hiring the minister, matters in which she has deep interest, how consistent that the wife should inquire in reference to the decisions of that meeting which she did not attend.
2. But on the supposition that they had both been out to a religious meeting, where the wife had heard all, understood all, the great apostle is charged with the ridiculous farce of both sitting down and asking and answering questions relative to matters with which they were both perfectly familiar. Consistency, thou art a jewel!
In the Sacred Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, holy women held positions of responsibility and honor. The first case we will here notice is that of Miriam, mentioned in Exodus 15:20, 21. “And Miriam, the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances. And Miriam answered them, Sing ye to the Lord, for he hath triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea.”
Compare with Micah 6:3, 4, where the great God appeals to rebellious Israel in these words: “O my people, what have I done unto thee? and wherein have I wearied thee? testify against me. For I brought thee up out of the land of Egypt, and redeemed thee out of the house of servants; and I sent before thee Moses, Aaron, and Miriam.” Here we find a woman occupying a position equal to that of Moses and Aaron, God’s chosen servants to lead the millions of Israel from the house of bondage.
The next case is that of Deborah, mentioned in Judges 4:4-10: “And Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, she judged Israel at that time. And she dwelt under the palm tree of Deborah, between Ramah and Bethel in Mount Ephraim; and the children of Israel came up to her for judgment. And she sent and called Barak the son of Abinoam out of Kedesh-naphtali, and said unto him, Hath not
the Lord God of Israel commanded, saying, Go and draw toward Mount Tabor, and take with thee ten thousand men of the children of Naphtali and of the children of Zebulan.
“And I will draw unto thee, to the river Kishon, Sisters, the captain of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his multitude; and I will deliver him into thine hand. And Barak said unto her, If thou wilt go with me, then I will go; but if thou wilt not go with me, then I will not go. And she said, I will surely go with thee, notwithstanding the journey that thou takest shall not be for thine honor; for the Lord shall sell Sisera into the hand of a woman. And Deborah arose, and went with Barak to Kedesh. And Barak called Zebulum and Naphtali to Kedesh; and he went up with ten thousand men at his feet; and Deborah went up with him.”
Notice the following particulars in the foregoing statements:—
1. Deborah was a prophetess. She received divine instruction from Heaven, and taught the people.
2. She was a judge in Israel. The people went up to her for judgment. A higher position no man has ever occupied.
The next cases of honorable mention are Ruth and Esther. The books of these two women hold places in the book of God with his holy prophets. Their position in the work of God was such as to give their history a place with the sacred writings translated into hundreds of languages and dialects, to be ready by millions down to the close of probationary time.
The prophet Joel, as quoted by Peter, Acts 2:17, 18, describes the last days thus: “And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. And on my servants, and on my handmaidens, I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.” Here, too, women receive the same inspiration from God as men.
And Paul speaks of the labors of Christian women in the highest terms of commendation and regard as follows: “I commend unto you Phebe, our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea; that ye receive her in the Lord, as becometh saints, and that ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you; for she hath been a succorer of man, and of myself also. Great Priscilla and Aquila, my helpers in Christ Jesus, who have for my life laid down their own necks; unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles.” “Greet Mary who bestowed much labor on us.” “Salute Tryphena and Tryphosa, who labor in the Lord. Salute the beloved Persis which labored much in the Lord.” Rom. 16:1-4, 6, 12.
The prophet Simeon, and Anna the prophetess waited for the consolation of Israel at the close of the Jewish age, and with joy embraced the infant Saviour.
The Christian age was ushered in with glory. Both men and women enjoyed the inspiration of the hallowed hour, and were teachers of the people. “Philip,” the evangelist, “had four daughters, virgins, which did prophesy.” Acts 21:8, 9. And the dispensation which was ushered in with glory, honored with the labors of holy women, will close with the same honors. Thus says God by his holy prophet: “And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy.” Acts 2:17.
[The photograph of James & Ellen G. White is an ambrotype taken in 1854. It is the earliest photographic image extant of the Whites. Image courtesy The Ellen G. White Estate, Inc.]
With all of the hubub over women's ordination, study committees in each division, and a worldwide study committee, some times it is nice to look back at historical sources. It is easy to get so caught up in the controversy that it can be easy to lose perspective. I suspect that reflecting back on this time, it will be an incredible irony for future historians to reflect back on the history of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, which was largely founded by a woman, and controversy nearly a century after her death about the ordination of women. Irony.
There are many key historical sources. The White Estate has shown how there are credentials that have "ordained" crossed out, others do not. The pivotal 1881 General Conference Session had a debate on the topic, but historians debate whether anything was truly resolved. The controversy goes on. Yet, with all of the debate, there are a few "key sources" that shed significant insight. They have been well-documented, but for those who may be unfamiliar, one of the sources I really find interesting is an editorial by J. N. Andrews in the Review and Herald (Jan. 2, 1879, pg. 4):
May Women Speak in Meeting?
There are two principal passages cited to prove that women should not take any part in speaking in religious meetings. These are 1 Cor. 14:34-36, and 1 Tim. 2:12. But a careful study of the books of Corinthians shows that the passage first referred to can have no such application.
The Corinthian church was in a state of great disorder. The first chapter shows that they were divided into parties in reference to the apostles themselves. The firth chapter shows that one had taken his father's wife, and the others did not mourn over this act. The sixth chapter shows that they went to law with the world, and implies that they were guilty of violating the seventh commandment. The eleventh chapter shows that when they celebrated the Lord's supper, the rich ate and drank until they were intoxicated, and the poor were waiting and suffering hunger.
Now it appears from the fourteenth chapter that when they were assembled in meeting, the women threw everything into confusion by talking among themselves, and acting with such indecorum as to be a matter of shame to them. So that what the apostle says to women in such a church as this, and in such a state of things, is not to be taken as directions to all Christian women in other churches and in other times, when and where such disorders do not exist.
As positive proof that he was not speaking against a woman's participating in religious worship, we refer to 1 Cor. 11:5, where he says that every woman who prophesieth or prayeth with her head uncovered dishonreth her head. And in chapter fourteen, verse three, he says that he that prophesieth speaketh unto men, to edification, exhortation, and comfort. These two passages show that they (women) did speak to edification, exhortation, and comfort. It was not a shame for women to do this work. Therefore Paul did not refer to such acts when he said, "It is a shame for women to speak in the church."
1 Tim. 2:12. We understand this text to give Paul's general rule with regard to women as public teachers. But there are some exceptions to this general rule to be drawn even from Paul's writings, and from other scriptures. It apperas from Phil. 4:3 that women labored with him in the gospel. Romans 16:1 shows that Phebe was a deaconess of the church at Cenchrea. See original.
Verse 3 shows that Priscilla, the wife of Aguila, was one of Paul's helpers; and Acts 18:26 shows that she was capable of instructing Apollos. Tryphena and Tryphosa, Rom. 16:12, labored in the Lord; and Persis labored much in the Lord. Acts 21: 8, 9. Philip's four daughters prophesied. In Luke 2, Anna the prophetess is mentioned. Verses 36-38. In the time of Jeremiah, Huldah was a prophetess consulted instead of Jeremiah himself. See 2 Chron. 34. In the fifth of Judges, Deborah is spoken of, and in the fifteenth of Exodus, Miriam.
Paul, in Romans 10:10, says, "With the heart man believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvaiton;" and this must apply to women equally with men.
[Photograph courtesy of the Center for Adventist Research, Andrews University]
As I continue reading through the Review and Herald I'm working on several things. Lately I have been doing a careful review to create an exhaustive list of early Seventh-day Adventist women in ministry (up to 1881). I started to read through the Review and Herald in conjunction with my study of the Testimonies for the Church. I'm now reading parts of volume 5 and I am tracking along in 1878 in the Review and Herald. I'm finding rich clues, some times confessions, that provide the historical context to early Adventist life and thought. I'm also developing a database of the life of James & Ellen G. White day by day for a biography that I plan to write.
Along the way I find various "gems"--little insights into Adventist life. This particular selection is from "Selected" so apparently Uriah Smith, or one of the associate editors, saw this as worthy of republishing in the flagship Seventh-day Adventist periodical. It provide a "window" into the early lives of Adventists, the home, and marriage. So, here it is:
To Guard Against Divorce
I first heard about The Ellen G. White Encyclopedia (Review and Herald, 2014) project when I was an intern at the Ellen G. White Estate headquarters at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists in Silver Spring, Maryland. At the time, over five summers, I had the privilege of copying and preparing materials that were used to open several White Estate Research Centers/Branch Offices. I was told that I should get in touch with Dr. Denis Fortin and Dr. Jerry Moon, professors at Andrews University, where I planned to go to school after my graduation as a history/theology major at Southern Adventist University. I have had a passion for studying Adventist history since I was a teenager so I was excited to pursue a M.A. in Church History, and then later a Ph.D. in Adventist Studies at Andrews University. What really excited me was the possibility to study with Dr. George R. Knight along with Drs. Moon and Fortin and other specialists in Adventist Studies. I was fortunate to be able to receive a gradate research assistantship to assist with The Ellen G. White Encyclopedia (EGWE).
The EGWE is definitely an ambitious project. Originally it was the brainchild of Dr. George R. Knight who began with a list of possible headings or entries. He had passed the project along to Drs. Moon & Fortin, younger scholars, as he put it, who had more energy. Dr. Knight had his sights on retirement. As he shared with me, the then recent publication of two separate Encyclopedias related to C. S. Lewis studies was a catalyst for the project.
What was exciting about the project was that they would be intentional to represent the best of Adventist scholarship from around the world, including a variety of academic disciplines. Medical experts could weigh in on health reform, historians could provide historical context, and "archeologists"--some Adventists who mine genealogical records for Adventist artifacts and historical tidbits--could provide rare insights. Thus The Ellen White Encyclopedia represesnts a breadth of scholarship about Ellen G. White that rises above some of the partison views and debates over Ellen G. White that you sometimes see within Adventism. In places where there are debate over the interpretation of her writings, articles highlight the nature of the debate so that the reader can make an informed decision.
One of the suggestions I made early on in the project was to create a list of every person to whom Ellen G. White wrote a letter. We added hundreds of names (about 1,000) to the list of entries, but later, by my estimation about half of them were eliminated. There just were enough significant information to qualify as an article. During my involvement with the project, a number of people, with personal letters and more information about various people came forward to provide greater historical context to some of her letters. I can only hope that the publication of this book will help to encourage more people to dig in their old family papers, diaries, and documents. In any event, the new EGWE represents the best and most extensive research that has been done to date on her world and the people she interacted with, and hopefully will be a catalyst for further study and new sources that come to light.
The other significant point that I want to emphasize is that the EGWE has gone through a vigorous referee process. Typically most academic articles are peer reviewed by several experts who weigh in on about the worthiness of a particular article. This book has not just examined by a few peer reviewers, but by many dozens of reviewers--it has perculated through the Ellen G. White Estate staff, General Conference leaders, and varoius academics all around the world. This very process in itself is what has caused this volume to take so long to produce as Drs. Fortin and Moon have ensured the entegrity of the volume by entering corrections themselves. It should also be noted that such a volume, if started today, would not be reproducible since at least 16 contributors (by my count) are deceased. Some of these articles are by experts in their particular area. They just aren't around to contribute any more so it was a good thing that they wrote when they did!
The bottom line: anyone who has an interest in Ellen G. White will want to purchase a copy of this book. I believe it will become the definitive reference work about her prophetic life and ministry.
Yesterday as part of the 16th AIIAS Theological Forum I presented a paper on "Ellen G. White, Ethics, Literary Assistants, and Literary Borrowing: A Current Assessment." Lots has been said already about this before. The accusation that Ellen G. White simly stole large amounts of writing and repressed them is an argument that goes back to the 1880s, and together form the core part of D. M. Canright's systematic attack against Ellen G. White after he apostatized from the denomination.
In brief, the 1970s and 1980s several critics reasserted these criticisms once again. Some, such as Walter Rea, asserted that she stole upwards of 80% or more, claims that were easily refuted by Fred Veltman in his massive 2,222 page "The Life of Christ Project" that demonstrated that she did use sources in select chapters of The Desire of Ages and that estimates between 10 to 20 are more realistic. Depending on the book it appears that more recent studies confirm this analysis.
The standard apologetic response is that Ellen G. White was simply doing what the majority of her contemporaries did when it came to literary sources, and with time, she gradually changed her practice to cite specific sources toward the end of her life. Modern copyright law and the documentation of sources is largely a much more modern phenomon and she changed with the culture in which she lived. Part of the problem is that Seventh-day Adventists, especially those who espouse a rigid view of inspiration, have often cited that Ellen G. White was a century ahead of her time. While it is true she did have some amazing insights, she was also fully a creature of her times as well.
They key problem is that Ellen G. White claimed in the 1860s that she was not influenced by other health reformers, James White kept these materials wrapped up, and therefore the implication was that she was not influenced by their contemporaries. Several people have documented how she appears to have claimed too much because months before her health reform vision she benefited from an article on Jackson, a health reformer of her time, about how to use water treatments during one of the many diptheria epidemics that raged across American at that time. Other evidence shows that James White was circulating these tracts. So was Ellen G. White unethical?
I don't believe that she was, at least from her perspective. Let me explain:
(1) First of all, Ellen G. White was not necessarily always correct with dates. I have been developing a database of Ellen G. White's life in preparation for a biography. It is not uncommon to find James White and Ellen G. White disagree over when things happened. I'm coming to the conclusion that for Ellen G. White ina n unrelated narrative of the travels, such as in examples in "Testimonies" vol. 4, that what was important was the story and how God led. Some times she got the timing wrong. Ellen G. White was not infallible and it appears that she was wrong in this instance.
(2) The more important question, in my estimation, is whether or not Ellen G. White was trying to cover things up? I don't believe so because Ellen G. White was open about her sources, both before and after her pivotal health reform vision. Although she had a chapter in Spiritual Gfits, vol. 4 (1864) on "Health" it was not until 1865 that she published a series of six tracts on health reform titled Health, or, How to Live. In these tracts she published her views and included a series of articles by other health reformers. One of the strongest arguments that demonstrate for me that Ellen G. White was not trying to "cover up" her use of literary sources, both with health reform among other areas, is that she encouraged Adventists to read the same sources she benefited from. Adventists were to be thinkers who could read for themselves and form their own opinions.
(3) Closely related to this is that Ellen G. White felt conspicuous, according to her earliest accounts of the vision, and hesitated to share what she saw about health. She was not a physician. It also appears that she was trying to understand the far reaching implications about what she had been shown in vision, including its practical application to her life and that of her family.
(4) It also appears that James White in 1878, and Ellen G. White at the end of her life, both expressed a desire to write a book on the development of their views of health reform. Apparently each did not feel that their side of the story had been adequately told.
(5) Which begs the question: how did Ellen G. White view health reform? Was it simply to eat or not eat a certain thing. I think that Adventists have some times missed the forest for the trees. In the debate over the details of health reform, I think it is easy to lose sight of the overall picture. What makes Ellen G. White significant in her teaching of health reform aren't the individual teachings--some of which changed with time as she matured in her understanding of health reform--but rather the big picture. She developed a theology of health reform that was definitely informed by health reformers of her era, apparently more so than she could have realized at the time. That theology was a theology that tied the laws of the natural world, what she later described as eight laws of health, and their importance to God's commandment-keeping people at the end of time, those who also keep the seventh-day Sabbath. This "remnant" people believe in the ultimate restoration and sacredness of God's law.
(6) Thus the difference between her and health reformers of her time is tantamount to that of the difference between Seventh Day Baptists who kept the seventh-day Sabbath and early Sabbatarian Adventists such as Jospeh Bates who also kept the seventh-day Sabbath. Obviously Rachel Oakes, a Seventh Day Batist, started a train of events by sharing her faith about the seventh-day Sabbath with Frederick Wheeler. This understanding of the seventh-day Sabbath ultimately got to Joseph Bates. Yet he went in new, apolcayptic directions in developing a theology of the "Great Controversy" that took the seventh-day Sabbath and developed a theology that was distinctively Seventh-day Adventist. I believe the same thing needs to be understood about health reform. Ellen G. White's view of health reform emphasized the keeping of natural laws as an important part of the restoration of God's kingdom. "All heaven is health," she wrote. Therefore, for those who desired to go to heaven, they will take God's natural laws seriously. Thus she developed a theology of the whole person and a motivation for healthful living.
(7) As Ellen G. White articulated her views of health reform, she grew less defensive about having to defend the uniqueness of her position because it was so obvious to early believers. They readily saw the difference. Ellen G. White was furthermore concerned about extreme views advocated by James C. Jackson, R. T. Trall, and others. Trall, in particular, spoke in the Adventist meetinghouse in Battle Creek and circulated at Seventh-day Adventist camp meetings. Early church members knew that he had many good things to say, but Ellen G. White cautioned early believers not to go to extremes. Trall, and other health reformers, had a tendency to do that because they did not recognize the spiritual dimensions of health reform.
(8) Alister McGrath, in his recent biography on C. S. Lewis points out about his enormously popular Chronicles of Narnia children's books that some people have deconstructed the individual aspects of his writings so much that they lose sight of the big picture. "His skill," observes McGrath, "lay not in inventing these elements, but in the manner he wove them together to create the literary landmark that we know as the Chronicles of Narnia." For Ellen White studies the same thing could be said about her: Ellen G. White shines at her best when you recognize her big picture ideas, and when it comes to health reform this is true once again.
(9) In a sense, the debate over Ellen G. White's use of literary sources, is somewhat telling in itself. It demonstrates the last relevance and significance of her ideas. As scholars continue to identify and deconstruct various aspects of her writings, it helps to delineate the uniqueness of her ideas, and I believe, showcases the uniqeness of her thought. As several Adventist apologists have observed that Ellen G. White was consistently the master, but not the slave, of her sources!
(10) Altogether, I believe that the greatness of Ellen G. White's theology, while we can certainly benefit from many of her theological ideas or various aspects of health reform, is in the big picture. Ellen G. White constantly reasserts in her "great controversy" framework who God is and human history from the divine perspective. This is one of the greatest evidences of the inspiration of the Bible--the Bible does not gloss over problems or even the sins of its greatest heroes. And the same thing can be argued about Ellen G. White. She reasserts over and over again issues from God's perspective--health reform, as an example, is not just a good thing to do, it is a spiritual discipline. It is something that we should value because God values humanity, and ultimately, we value who God is and His law.
(11) What is clear is that Ellen G. White did develop a new philosophy of how to deal with her critics after the 1860s, and that was that it was not her job to defend her ministry, including the uniqueness of her views. She learned that this was something that she needed to trust God to do for her. This became especially apparent in the vociferous attacks by Miles Grant during the 1870s and 1880s. After the attacks of the early 1860s over the uniqeness of her understanding of health reform, she never again went out of her way to defend herself. Apparently Ellen G. White learned something from what happened, too.
[Photograph of James C. Jackson's "Our Home on the Hillside" from the Dansville Area Historical Society]
Like any historical movement, there are just some people who are plain crazy. Some people call them fanatics. Ellen G. White dealt with her fair share of crazy during her lifetime. Check this out:
"We see monomaniacs all over the country. They are frequently sane upon every subject but one. . . . There are some who concentrate their minds upon one subject to the exclusion of others which may be of equal importance. They are one-idea men" (3T 33-34).
James White once wrote: "Fanatics, who regard themselves as reformers, are the very hardest cases to reform."
J. H. Kellogg similarly noted: "Extremists are usually such through ignorance or egotism; they rest satisfied with only a part of the truth, and are thus led into error."
Perhaps one of the craziest things I have seen so far while reading through the Review and Herald is about the "Clock-face Folly" in an editorial written presumably by Uriah Smith. He notes that a brother writes from Minnesota "that there are some there who think that the dial-plates of our clocks should be turned around so as to bring the figure 12 at the bottom and 6 at the top to correspond with the ancient Hebrew method of reckoning the hours, and also the modern names of the days of the week should be discarded; and that if we do not make these changes we have the mark of the beast." Smith noted that those who had urged such views had been "turned out" from the church for "apostasy." He added: "These are just the persons who we should suppose would go into such foolishness. The theory and the people are well mated. Do not disturb them" (Review and Herald, Aug. 8, 1878, pg. 56).
Ellen G. White gave some practical advice to make sure you don't go nuts (she was such a sensible woman!):
I found this list in the Review and Herald (Nov. 8, 1877, pg. 146). I think it gives an interesting window into early Seventh-day Adventist spirituality.
1. When you are adverse to religious conversation or the company of heavenly-minded Christians.
2. When from preference, and without necessity, you absent yourself from religious services.
3. When you are more concerned about pacifying conscience than honoring Christ in performing duty.
4. When you are more afraid of being counted over-strict than of dishonoring Christ.
5. When you trifle with temptation or think lightly of sin.
6. When the faults of others are more a matter of censorious conversation than secret grief and prayer.
7. When you are impatient and unforgiving toward the faults of others.
8. When you confess, but do not forsake, sin; and when you acknowledge, but still neglect, duty.
9. When your cheerfulness has more of the levity of the unregenerate than the holy joy of the children of God.
10. When you shrink from self-examination.
11. When the sorrows and cares of the world follow you further into the Sabbath than the savor and sanctity of the Sabbath follow you into the week.
12. When you are easily prevailed upon to let your duty as a Christian yield to your worldly interest or the opinions of your neighbors.
13. When you associate with men of the world without solicitude about doing good or having your own spiritual life injured.
Over the past year I have been diligently going through the 4,739 pages of Testimonies for the Church. The nine volumes are actually a collection of pamphlets that began with a single pamphlet in 1855, expanded into groups of pamphlets and ultimately by the 1880s into volumes, with additional volumes added with time. As I finish the third volume I am nearly 42% on my journey through these writings.
What impresses me the most on my journey so far is a sense of just how much sense Ellen G. White’s writings make by reading them through like this. It is clear to me that her writings were meant to be read in context, and even though she sometimes used compilations and allowed for compilations after her death, the Testimonies for the Church help me to understand the significance of her writings as she not only gave counsels, but then balanced them against those who sought to ignore them on the one hand, and others who deliberately misused them on the other. Although I’ve spent a significant amount of time studying her writings over the past two decades, until now I’ve never taken the time to carefully read these books from cover to cover. I wonder how many people have? I think that if more people would stop using the Ellen G. White CD-ROM and compilations and begin to read more of her writings such as the Testimonies for the Church that it promote a much more balanced understanding of who Ellen G. White was and the role and purpose of her writings for the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Not only are the Testimonies for the Churhc important, but they represent as a genre perhaps the key to understanding her overall writings and ministry. For example, just in terms of just numbers, by some estimates Ellen G. White is reported to have written approximately 100,000 pages. The Testimonies for the Church thus represents approximately 5% of this total, but when you count the fact that many of these Testimonies were published later as articles, sermons, and portions of pamphlets and books, I believe that they more realistically represent between 20 to 30% of her total
But what was a “Testimony” for the Church? These early Testimonies were letters typically written to an individual, group of individuals such as a church or churches, or a group of ministers or church leaders. Some times these were quite “pointed” and with time she increasingly kept copies of letters that she wrote. These letters had general application as they represented recurring challenges within the growing church. Some times Ellen G. White sensed a “duty to write” while at other times she was “bidden to wait” before sending written admonitions (2T 154). At several points she wrote about how she could barely refrain from admonishing someone while speaking in public. At time she said this was because there were unbelievers present.
Perhaps most significant of all is that within this genre of Ellen G. White’s writings follows a well developed pattern that recurs with consistency:
Now these five steps are not always followed perfectly or in this order, but they recur so often in this manner that I believe that they represent a unique pattern. At times, especially in her lengthier treatises, she repeats these steps. She will go through a pattern of 1, 2, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. Or, at other times, 1, 2, 3, 4, and then repeat, and then finish with step 5. Yet these steps recur with such frequency that they need to be considered as an important part of this genre of her writings.
Perhaps the greatest challenge, as the individual situations grow more distant chronologically, is to better understand the historical context of each of these Testimonies—at least as much as is possible to know. While some may likely remain a mystery, in a future blog post I will write more about some of those I have been able to identify, and more importantly, the historical context that sheds light on this important—perhaps most important?—genre of her writings.
What do you think?
After Uriah Smith, based upon my personal reading through the Review and Herald, the person who I believe wrote the most in the Review and Herald was not Ellen G. White. It wasn't even James White who frequently went in spurts and who tragically died way to early from malaria in 1881. Instead, that disctinction I believe belongs to Joseph Clarke, a Seventh Day Baptist who converted to Sabbatarian Adventism in 1855. Clarke and his wife were farmers and educators who lived near Bowling Green, Ohio (not too far from where Ellen G. White had her famous "Great Controversy" vision in 1858, and who presumably would have been there to witness the occasion). One thing that we do know about Clarke is that when James White received a lot of flack for proposing church organization, Clarke from the outset strongly supported James White and the organization of the church, at the local, conference, and by 1863, as a "General Conference."
But who was Joseph Clarke? Despite the fact that he wrote many wonderful theological articles, and managed to write on just about every topic imaginable, he managed to say almost nothing about his personal life. I had foraged through the Seventh-day Adventist Obituary Index. Still, no luck. I managed to put together a very brief article as an entry for the Ellen G. White Encyclopedia because Ellen G. White encouraged him to write more (Lt. 9, 1868)--counsel he apparently took very seriously. So much so that A. W. Spalding considered him an unofficial editor for the Review and Herald. I also knew that he spent a short amount of time in Texas in response to appeals to help African-Americans during the Reconstruction period after the Civil War. And of course, my favorite, is where George R. Knight (who did not find any details about his life) in his treatment of the development of military service notes that Clarke was the one who in response to James White's rousing editorial "The Nation" about miltiary service responded by suggesting that Sabbatarian Adventists form a regiment of Sabbath keepers to punish the South for their rebellion (and thus be able to keep the seventh-day Sabbath).
After ten years of piecing together clues I found a new piece about a "J. & S. Clarke" in Texas. I had read through the obituary index so I was doubtful, but I tried to search once again under "S. Clarke"--all variations of J. Clarke had not gone anywhere. I finally found an obituary for Sarah A. Curtis Clarke (1830-1920) who married a Seventh Day Baptist by the name of Joseph N. Clarke on Oct. 6, 1853. A search for J. Neulon Clarke (1829-1914) showed that this was the same Clarke to whom she was married. But since he went by "Jos. Clarke" or "Joseph Clarke" with his hundreds of articles it just didn't seem like it was him. Perhaps he wanted to throw off future researchers like me, and I remembered running across the obituary in my initial search. Further genealogical research showed that this was the same Clarke who lived in Ohio, moved to Texas, and later lived in the Missouri area. Apparently, they had six daughters and spent their final years with one of their daughters who lived in New York (another reason I had initially discounted these obituaries).
After long last, it finally all came together. It "clicked" and all the historical details fell into line. This "mystery person" I think has some special significance. In many ways it shows how the "rank and file" or ordinary church members--many of who never preached from the pulpit--but who still made a significant impact. Some times it is easy in the study of history to overlook some of these unsung heroes. Some, like Clarke, made an incredible contribution through their writing. And he certainly deserves to be recognized as someone who over a decade before James Edson White responded to appeals to work for African-Americans in the "South"--which at that time meant helping with the pioneer mission field in Texas. Their story deserves to be told and recognized. And as more research is done, no doubt I believe more material will come to light that will help shed a window into the development of early Adventism.
[Photograph courtesy of the General Conference Archives & Statistics]