Ellen G. White and the Gospel Test

by Dale Ratzlaff

Edited by Rolaant McKenzie

The Gospel Test

"I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you, and want to distort the Gospel of Christ. But even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed." (Galatians 1:6-9)

There are two formulas for salvation. One is Biblical and the other is that usually found in cults. Which is the formula that will bring eternal life and which bring eternal destruction?

Faith = Salvation + Works or Faith + Works = Salvation

The first is the formula used by Bible writers. In Ephesians 2:8-10, Paul explains that salvation is a gift of God based on faith. But even the faith itself comes from God. Then, after salvation comes good works. Why are people saved by God's unmerited grace? One reason, Paul says, is to do good works. Salvation caused humanity to become a new creature in Christ "unto good works." Christians will do good works, not because they must do so to gain salvation, rather it has become their new nature. Because they have become new creatures in Christ, they will desire to do good works. Hence, the first formula is Biblical.

However, it is the second formula that the cults will always use. They will place works before salvation. What works? Each group will have its own unique list which must be followed to the letter of the Law, or else salvation is out of reach. One final way that cults will link works to salvation is through obedience to Old Testament Law. Some groups will explain that worship must be conducted on Saturday and that the Feast Days must be observed. They will also promote the idea of following the Old Testament dietary laws. Some of the Sabbatarian and identity groups fall into this category.

Within statements that EGW made in her writings regarding salvation one can find the following:

1. The 1843 Second Coming message was a "saving message" and pastors who resisted this message had "the blood of souls" upon themselves.
(Early Writings, p.243)

2. Churches which rejected the revised 1844 sanctuary "truth" fell from
God's favor and became "Babylon." The people in these churches were
deceived by Satan, and their prayers were useless.
(Spiritual Gifts, v.1, pp.140, 172, 173)

3. Christians should never say, "I am saved."
(The Kress Collection, p.120; RH, 6/17/1890)

4. Only those who keep the Sabbath will be saved in the last days.
(Medical Ministry, p.123)

5. There will be no change in character at the second coming.
(Review & Herald, 6/21/1892)

6. Ellen White says we are not saved by faith alone.
(Australasian Union Record, 10/15/1905; Sketches from the Life of
Paul, p.192)

7. We must live a life of "perfect obedience" before God's promises will
be fulfilled to us.
(Testimonies, v.2, p.122, 148).

8. We are to be judged by our "deeds."
(Spirit of Prophecy, v.4, p.311).

If one reads the writings of EGW and other Adventists, especially those written prior to 1888, it will be apparent that the Adventists had a different gospel. It was not the Pauline Gospel of justification by faith. Rather, it was outright legalism or at best Galatianism. In either case, the SDA gospel, especially the theology taught in connection with the cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary and the investigative judgment, would qualify for Paul's condemnation in Galatians 1:6-9. It was clearly a gospel of:

Faith + Works = Salvation

EGW claims to have seen in vision that an angel from God guided William Miller in his methods and conclusions which were erroneous, and she called his message a "saving message." EGW used the term, "I saw" over 1,900 times; "I was shown" over 970 times; "said the angel" over 260 times; "in vision" over 300 times; and "light given me" over 150 times. It is evident that she was claiming divine authority for her statements. As has been noted before, many of her statements are totally erroneous and distort, undermine, or contradict the new covenant Gospel of grace. As a result, EGW would become the focus of Paul's condemnation.

While there are other later statements of EGW where she teaches the Gospel correctly, she will often give the Gospel with her right hand and then take it away with her left. One can find many quotes in her writings that are consistent with the Gospel, but one can also find many other places in her writings where statements are incorrect or compromised the Gospel.

The Hermeneutic of "Here a Little, There a Little"

I have noticed that whenever some of the legalistic, erroneous statements of EGW which distort the Gospel are presented, too often the response from many SDAs is: "Yes, but look in ... for a correct statement." While this is not a desirable comparison, this is very similar to what JWs do in Scripture. Should a post-NT inspired writer ever compromise the Gospel?

Two things should be said about EGW's erroneous Gospel statements. First, they are often made in connection with the cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary and the investigative judgment. Second, EGW claims to be a messenger from God and to speak with divine authority. Therefore, it is incumbent upon the person evaluating her writings to look for inconsistencies and errors. If there are no major erroneous statements, especially regarding the Gospel, then her claim may be authentic. However, if her writings have a mixture of truth and error, even if, in the mix, there is more truth than error, the error exposes her claim to divine authority as false. Not only that, but a little error mixed with large amounts of truth makes the error even more dangerous in that the reader is less likely to discern the error.

Some SDAs quote 1 Thessalonians 5:19-21:

"Do not quench the Spirit; do not despise prophetic utterances. But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good."

This must mean one of two things: Either one is to pick and choose from the prophetic utterance of a true prophet, or one must discriminate between a true and a false prophet by the prophetic utterance. I believe the latter is the correct understanding. However, even if one takes the former, then the doctrinal statement on EGW's writings should read, "some of the writings of Ellen G. White are a continuing and authoritative source of truth." And if that were the case, how would one know which statements to keep and which ones to throw out? The dilemma is obvious.

Nevertheless, in practice, many SDAs often feel free to accept EGW as an inspired prophet, and then pick and choose within her writings, taking that which is good and harmonizes with the Gospel, and discarding the rest. Are SDAs willing to use this pick-and-choose method of "here a little, there a little" in evaluating the writings of other modern-day religious movements or prophets?

Christians who evaluate the teachings of JWs zero in on their erroneous doctrine of Christ, their works theory of salvation, and the importance of 1914, and conclude that these errors undermine the whole system. The same can be said for the Mormons. Joseph Smith and Brigham Young had many good things to say. Their emphasis on healthful living, honest labor, assistance of the poor, and support of family values immediately come to mind. However, their gospel is "another gospel" which is foreign to Scripture. Granted, the errors JWs and Mormons teach are greater than those in the writings of EGW. Nevertheless, one could use the "here a little, there a little" hermeneutic and conclude that the writings of the JWs and the Mormons are inspired. Should one simply overlook erroneous statements of "inspired writers" which compromise the Gospel? What kind of continuing and authoritative source of truth is it that requires this kind of treatment? Add to this the fact that EGW instructs SDAs not to pick and choose in her writings. She taught an either/or stance on her own writings. She, herself, forces the issue. She states that her writings are either of God or of Satan. She leaves no middle ground (Testimonies, v.5, p.691). She claims that her writings are "without one heretical sentence" (Letter addressed to Granddaughter Mabel, Nov. 16, 1905). She states that in her Testimonies "it is God, not an erring mortal, who has spoken" (Testimonies, v.5, p.682). Researchers have already found in her writings a significant number of heretical statements which cannot be from God. How can the writings of EGW continue as "an authoritative source of truth"? If we follow her own counsel of not accepting the hermeneutic of "here a little, there a little", then we should do as she said:

If the Testimonies speak not according to the word of God, reject them. (Testimonies, v.5, p.691)

The conclusion seems obvious. Remember, Paul said to let the prophets speak "and let others pass judgment" (1 Corinthians 14:29).

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