Seventh Day Adventism: Who Is Telling the Truth? – Program 4

By: Dr. William Johnsson, Dr. Walter Martin; ©1985
What information has the Bible given us to determine whether a prophet is a true prophet who speaks for God, or a false prophet who should not be trusted? On the basis of the biblical standard, is Ellen G. White a true prophet, or a false prophet?

Unmasking a False Prophet

Ankerberg: Welcome! We’re glad that you’ve joined us tonight. We’re talking about Seventh-day Adventism. My guests are Dr. William Johnsson, the editor of the Adventist Review, the official magazine of the Seventh-day Adventist denomination, as well as Dr. Walter Martin. Okay, Walter, you’ve got a book where you constantly have to deal with how do you judge a person: is this a prophet of God or is this a false prophet? How would you evaluate Ellen G. White? Tough question.
Martin: When we get to the problem of Mrs. White, we are dealing with the problem in Matthew 7, since you raised it. The first part of the passage says the false prophets can call Jesus Lord; the false prophets can prophesy and preach in Jesus’ name; the false prophets can work miracles in Jesus’ name. And Jesus said, “When I meet them [they can even cast out demons in his name] I will say, ‘leave me; I never knew you, workers of iniquity’.” Despite what they did in his name, they abused his name and misled people. So false prophets can look just like the real article. You’ve got to test them very carefully. If it doesn’t come to pass according to what they say, then you reject it as contrary to the Word of God.
Now, where Mrs. White is concerned, Mrs. White borrowed extensively. You’ve already admitted this, but what’s interesting is that Ron Graybill, who used to be effectively active in the White Estate, has listed a number—in the Adventist Review, April 2, 1981—of Mrs. White’s quotations, one coming from a clergyman, a minister and president of Amherst College where she quoted from him without recognizing him. She drew upon numerous sources.
I would like to ask you a question—it’s not a trap; it’s just a question, and I really would like an answer—Bob Spangler has asked the same question and I’m fascinated by his answer and I would be interested in yours. “Does unbelief suggest that what Mrs. White writes in her personal testimonies has been learned from others? We inquire: What time has she had to learn all these facts? And who for a moment can regard her as a Christian woman if she gives her ear to gossip, then writes it out as a vision from God? If Mrs. White has gathered the facts from a human mind in a single case, she has in thousands of cases, and God has not shown her these things, but she has written these in her personal testimonies. And if they are not to be found in print and are not brought out in sermons from the pulpit, where did Mrs. White find them? From what source has she received the new and rich thoughts which she found in her writings and oral addresses? She could not have learned them from books, from the fact that they did not contain such thoughts. Certainly she did not learn them from those ministers who had not thought of them. The case is a clear one.”
Now that’s a very clear cut, honest, forthright statement. The author is Mrs. White’s husband, James White, who says, “If she borrowed from just one, she borrowed from everybody else. Who can trust her as a Christian woman if she says it came from God and it came from other sources?” You have already admitted that it came from other sources. Graybill has proved it came from other sources. Rea has proved it came from other sources. Everything James White says necessary to disprove his wife’s authority has now been demonstrated. I would be interested to see what evidence you would accept personally as a Christian that would tell you that Mrs. White was a false prophet? What evidence would you accept?
Johnsson: I think I’ve already made my statement. Her relationship to Jesus; her relationship to the cross; her relationship to the scriptures.
Martin: No, that’s not the question. The question is: What evidence would you accept as proof—listen carefully—what evidence would you accept as proof that Mrs. White did indeed deceive, whether consciously or unconsciously, and was in fact a false prophet? What would prove it to you?
Johnsson: Surely the scriptural tests have to be the test.
Martin: But we can’t use scripture because she’s the infallible interpreter. If we use scripture the Adventists will turn to us and say, “But the Spirit of Prophecy contradicts that.” How can we use scripture?
Johnsson: You are saying she’s the infallible interpreter.
Martin: No, you have said it. I quoted ten statements from your leaders that say it.
Johnsson: I’m quoting the fundamental beliefs that deny those statements.
Martin: Which fundamental beliefs today are essentially worthless, because you can find an equal if not superior number of quotations on the same subject from your own publishing houses which disagree with it.
Johnsson: Walter, please, I think I know the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Martin: I think I do, too.
Johnsson: No other statements have the authority of the fundamental beliefs. These are our statements of faith. This is what we expect people to affirm to before we accept them into the church.
Martin: Could you answer that question: What would you accept as proof? If you were putting it in a courtroom context and I said to you…
Johnsson: Contradiction of scripture.
Martin: Contradiction of scripture? That would prove it to you? You know that Bob Spangler, the editor of the Ministry, said that nothing could convince him? So you’re a step up from him. You say scripture will do it. Hallelujah! Then let’s look at scripture. Mrs. White says, and I quoted her before, in her whole consistent chain of revelation, Mrs. White said, “It has been consistent and it has not contained any heresies.” She said that. Mrs. White not only contained heresies, she contradicted the scripture. She taught that Jesus Christ was not the eternal God in human flesh, which was expunged from your publications after she changed her mind, but she taught it. That’s false doctrine, is it not?
Johnsson: She said, “In Him [Jesus] is life original uninherited, unborrowed….”
Martin: That’s when she changed. Before that. Check your commentary before they expunged it. You’ll find it there. Mrs. White is quoted denying the deity of Jesus Christ.
Johnsson: Now you are saying she is a false prophet.
Martin: No, I’m saying if we’re going to go to scripture, to deny that Christ is eternal God would at that time have classed her as a false prophet, wouldn’t it?
Johnsson: I’d have to check up.
Martin: If it’s there, it would make her a false prophet at that time?
Johnsson: At that point.
Martin: Right. That’s all I’m saying. That’s honest. Thank you.
Johnsson: Let me also say this, John. Ellen White wrote a vast amount of material—25 million words probably. Surely we’re not going to say that every word that she wrote has the same value. She had letters; she had diaries, and so on. The fact that you find a variety of statements—and you do find a variety of statements—has to be taken into account. I think we do see a variation there within her works.
Ankerberg: Let’s leave it with that. We’ll bring up the question that that raises—that we need an infallible interpreter for the infallible interpreter to find out where we have inspired and where we don’t have inspired.
Alright, we’ve got, first of all, a question from a non-Adventist and then a question from an Adventist. I think two very powerful questions.
Audience: I have been sitting there listening to the discussion and if we have the scriptures as our sole basis for what we believe, why is it necessary to hold on so strongly to a person? What would this do to the entire Adventist movement if they would say, “Thus saith the Lord,” and just come to the conclusion—the leaders of the Adventist Church—and say, “Let’s go back to the scriptures and let’s validate what we do according to the scriptures, and not just keep referring to Ellen White, and going way back there in her teachings?” I’d just like to hear an answer to that, I certainly would.
Johnsson: In terms of doctrine, we go back to the scriptures. We “Test all things by the Word of God and hold fast that which is good,” as 1 Thessalonians 5 tells us to do. In terms of Ellen White, you have to consider her total role in terms of shaping the Adventist movement—I’m not talking about doctrine—the lifestyle, the distinctives, our educational system, the counsel, the health system, our publishing system, our worldwide vision. Adventists, I think, are unique as a denomination. We are truly a people with a world vision. Her writings have brought tremendous impetus in these particular distinctives. We’re not about to renounce our history and the role of Ellen White in our denomination.
Audience: But you’re afraid of her.
Johnsson: No, sir. We are not afraid of Ellen White.
Audience: There seems to be fear there, sir. This is disturbing me tonight. I’d like to have this resolved in my own thinking before I leave here tonight. I certainly would.
Johnsson: I’m not afraid of Ellen White. Her writings have brought me a hope and encouragement. They over and over say, “Go back to the scriptures.” They point me to Jesus, my Savior and my Lord.
Ankerberg: Bill, what if were to say, “Okay, we can go with Ellen G. White as somebody like Calvin or Luther or somebody that gave us counsel, but the thing is, not Spirit of Prophecy. Somebody that, she didn’t admit it, but she took from other sources. There were some good, some bad. She erred. She was human. She sinned. She had fights with her husband. You know, all these things. She was human. Let’s just not elevate her to that position.” Could you do that?
Johnsson: Well, what about a prophet in the 1 Corinthians 14 sense? Are they human? Of course they’re human.
Ankerberg: But if she doesn’t measure up to the test, why fight for that?
Johnsson: I’m not prepared to admit that she doesn’t measure up to the test, you see. I think she does in terms of the biblical tests as I’ve studied them.
Ankerberg: Walter?
Martin: I would just like to add from the Kingdom of the Cults a perfect parallel to our brother’s discussion. The Mormons are larger than the Seventh-day Adventists. The Mormons have more money than the Seventh-day Adventists. The Mormons have a missionary field of people far greater than the Seventh-day Adventists. They have grown more rapidly. They double every ten years. They are zealous. They don’t drink. They don’t smoke. They don’t dance. They have a healthy lifestyle. They work very hard at a worldwide ministry. I have found them all over the world. Why shouldn’t I accept Joseph Smith?
Johnsson: Because of the scriptures.
Martin: That’s precisely why we don’t accept Ellen White, because she contradicts them. That’s the whole point I’ve been trying to make tonight.
Ankerberg: This man has a question. You’re an Adventist, aren’t you? Alright, let’s have a question.
Audience: Is it not true that a scriptural or canonical prophet has continuing authority? A local prophet’s authority ceases at the death of the prophet. Why is it that we claim a continuing gift of prophecy for Ellen White when she died 70 years ago? Why do we claim continuing authority when our prophet is indeed dead?
Ankerberg: Solid question. What do you think, Bill?
Johnsson: Well, authority in the sense of continuing counsel or value to the church; that is the status of the authority of Ellen White’s writings.
Martin: But you say it’s more than counsel. You say it’s inspired interpretation. It’s the Spirit of Prophecy. The brother is saying, “The prophet’s dead. If we don’t consider her writings canonical scripture, why are we still using them?”
Ankerberg: Because all the prophets that you mentioned in relationship to Ellen G. White, that did not write in the Old Testament, they have no influence on any of the passages of the Old Testament. The man is right. They were just for that time.
Johnsson: Well, I would just go back again to our statement of beliefs, the way it is set up there, that we see continuing value, counsel, in terms, for instance, of our health institutions, our schools. They were counsels for her day but they set forth principles that are still valid. The health, the lifestyle, that she sets forth continues to be valid.
Ankerberg: Okay, Bill, let me ask you one more thing. Why is it that we just don’t add another book and call it scripture? What is the difference between that and scripture?
Johnsson: The difference is that scripture will test her writings. Her writings will not test scripture.
Martin: This is circular reasoning. We went through this before. How can you use her writings to test scripture when it is her interpretations of scripture which test? How do you do it? That’s circular reasoning That’s fallacious. That’s begging the question. It’s illogical. It’s unreasonable. It’s irrational.
Ankerberg: And also the thing that I found in reading the Graybill papers was that Ellen G. White, who said that she should come underneath the scriptures, when it came to the people in her own day of judging her on the 1844 Investigative Judgment, at that point when they touched it and said that she was wrong, she did exactly what you say she should not do. She pulled rank and said it was because she was the prophet, she was the one who spoke via the Spirit of Prophecy. Graybill documents the fact that she did that. So you have exactly what Walter is saying documented in your own history.
Johnsson: Again, you see a variety of statements from Ellen White. We must take the overall thrust of her writings.
Martin: But James White says if she does it once she’s not a prophet of God.
Ankerberg: Follow-up here.
Audience: My other brief question relates to 1844. I wonder if Dr. Johnsson can tell us what practical Christian application is there for me as a Christian from the 1844 message? It brings us in disgrace and misunderstanding with the Christian world and our evangelical Christians. Why didn’t we just drop the thing? What value is it? As a minister I’ve never been able to find a single item of Christian value in that doctrine.
Ankerberg: I’d like to follow that up with a quote from your fundamentals, too, concerning spiritual gifts: “When members employ these spiritual gifts as faithful stewards of God’s very grace,” here’s the result, “the church is protected from the destructive influence of false doctrine, grows with the growth that is from God, and is built up in faith and love.” It seems to me the 1844 Investigative Judgment is not building up the Seventh-day Adventist denomination.
Johnsson: Well, it depends on the way it is set forth. If it is set forth in a perfectionistic mode, it surely will not build up. But if it is set forth in a scriptural mode, and the scriptures, remember, call us to judgment according to works, with Christ as our Savior and as our mediator and judge, then there is much of value for us in that.
Ankerberg: Walter, you want to follow up on that? I was just thinking of the fact that when you say that it’s not a perfectionistic mode, in the very first program I read to you what Ellen G. White herself taught in The Great Controversy. If that’s not perfectionism as a doctrine that is stated, I couldn’t enunciate it any clearer than what she did.
Johnsson: And I also read to you, John, other statements where she said, “So long as I am joined to Christ, he is my Savior, my atonement, and my security is in him.”
Ankerberg: I’d love to believe that, but what do you tell the people? Do you say that she was wrong when she said the other statements? Because those are clear as a bell. And you’re promoting that book around the world right now.
Johnsson: Remember, some of these other statements are also in Great Controversy, where the emphasis is on faith, repentance, forgiveness. They are the themes that come through in her presentation of the judgment. Could I just go back to the question that the pastor raised about the value of this doctrine? I think it has much to say to all Christians today, all Christians. The doctrine of the judgment is one that is enshrined in the ancient creeds of Christendom. It runs throughout scripture, Old Testament and New Testament, but nevertheless it is a doctrine that has largely faded out of Christian thought today. There is some important aspects for Christians to be reminded of in this doctrine of the judgment. The doctrine of the judgment, as I see it, is a doctrine that calls us to words, good old-fashioned words that I think are still meaningful. Words like loyalty, loyalty to my Master. The doctrine of the judgment tells me that Christ is my hope. He is my salvation. His justification is my hope. But because I am his, I must now live for him. He is my Lord.
Martin: But your sins are still with you, according to Mrs. White. She said it; I didn’t. She said in 1844, “Our great high priest enters the holy of holies and there appears in the presence of God to engage in the last acts of his ministrations in behalf of man, to perform the work of Investigative Judgment.” So your sins have been forgiven you, says Mrs. White. But since 1844 they are remaining there and they have not been blotted out, and they’re not going to be blotted out until the conclusion of the Investigative Judgment, which means…
Ankerberg: Let me follow that up, Walter. The Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia, on that very topic, pointed back to The Great Controversy, where she said, “All who have ever taken upon themselves the name of Christ must pass its searching scrutiny. Both the living and the dead are to be judged out of those things which were written in the book. Sins that have not been repented of and forsaken will not be pardoned and blotted out of the books of record but will stand witness against the sinner in the day of God. Our acts, our words, even our most secret motives, all have their weight in deciding our destiny.”
And also, she said that the only way that we have to overcome, not only do we have to be forgiven but we have to show God that we have overcome that which he has forgiven. So if I do not live perfect, if I have not overcome any of my sins, and she says even my thoughts of my mind, and my influence after I die, my name can be blotted out of the Book of Life.
Martin: But you haven’t quoted the complete passage in The Great Controversy, which is only fair. “All who have truly repented of sin and by faith claimed the blood of Christ as their atoning sacrifice have had pardon entered against their names in the books of heaven,…”
Ankerberg: “Have had”—past tense.
Martin: “…and they have become partakers of the righteousness of Christ. Their characters are found to be in harmony with the law of God. Their sins will be blotted out.”
Ankerberg: “Will be”—future.
Martin: Which means that right now your sins haven’t been blotted out, when the Bible says that the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, keeps on cleansing us from all sin—1 John. Very clear. So, if your sins are still not blotted out, how do you explain 1 John 2?
Ankerberg: Romans 8:1—“There is no condemnation,” no judgment…
Martin: “…to those who are in Christ Jesus.” I mean, what are we going to do about Mrs. White?
Johnsson: “For those who are in Christ Jesus.” That is the critical point. Remember the parable that Jesus himself taught.
Martin: But are you in Christ?
Johnsson: I’m in Christ, yes.
Martin: Are your sins blotted out?
Johnsson: Jesus has taken care of my sins.
Martin: Are they blotted out? Come on!
Johnsson: My sins are forgiven.
Martin: Are they blotted out?
Johnsson: Let me finish my parable.
Martin: The defense rests.
Johnsson: Let me finish my parable of Matthew 18. Let’s go back to the words of the Master. Remember the parable of the two debtors, how this man takes account? This fellow has a fantastic debt, 10,000 talents. In terms of money today, it’s almost beyond computation. It’s millions and millions, an incredible sum. This man comes in and asks for a little time. “Give me time.” I don’t know how much time he wanted to pay it off, but the master says, “It’s all right. You’re forgiven The debt is cancelled,” okay? The debt is cancelled. But the parable doesn’t end there; because this same servant goes away and he gets a fellow servant who owes him a hundred pence and grabs him by the neck and says, “You pay me the last penny or else you go into jail and you stay there till you pay it.” Jesus says at the end of the parable, “Throw that wicked servant who has been forgiven so much, throw him into outer darkness.” You see, John,…
Martin: What is the intent of that parable, though?
Johnsson: The intent of the parable is this, there are two things going on here, Walter, as I understand it. Number one, God’s incredible grace, incredible grace that pays my debt. I could live a million years; I could never atone for my sins, only Jesus can do it.
Martin: It’s all paid for…
Johnsson: It’s all paid for.
Martin: …by the blood of Jesus?
Johnsson: Right. The second part of the parable is this: that having been forgiven, because I am his, my life will now reflect his life. As he is merciful, I in my imperfect sphere will reflect his life.
Martin: But your sins won’t be cancelled finally until the end of the Investigative Judgment. Until then you’re going to sweat it.
Johnsson: But if my life does not reflect that, then his forgiveness counts for nothing.
Ankerberg: Bill, the question is, to what degree do you have to reflect it?
Johnsson: What’s that?
Ankerberg: To what degree do you have to reflect obedience to the law of God?
Martin: Particularly the Sabbath?
Johnsson: Not a perfect obedience.
Ankerberg: She said it was perfect—every act, every word, every deed, every motive, including your influence after you die.
Martin: These are the things, you see, that confuse evangelicals raised on reformation theology; because we believe in salvation by grace only, justification by faith. Adventist doctrine states they believe it also. But what happens is you’re saved by grace and kept by works. Until the end of the Investigative Judgment, if you don’t toe the line on the works, you lose your salvation.
Johnsson: Brother Martin, I refer you to Paul. Paul tells us…
Martin: That’s a good source.
Johnsson: Paul calls us to judgment according to our works.
Martin: As a Christian.
Johnsson: And every one of us is going to give account before God according to our works.
Martin: But not for our souls.
Johnsson: We are not going to be saved by our works, but the works will show whether we are in relationship to Jesus Christ, whether we are his or not.
Martin: Our works will testify to the existence of saving faith.
Ankerberg: Let’s hold on to this. Thanks for joining us this week. We’ve got some more questions. We’ll pick this up right where we’re at. Please join us next week.

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