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“My mind has been greatly stirred in regard to the idea, ‘Why, Sister White has said so and so, and Sister White has said so and so; and therefore we are going right up to it.’ God wants us all to have common sense, and He wants us to reason from common sense. Circumstances alter conditions. Circumstances change the relation of things” Ellen White, Selected Messages, Book 3, 217.

"The principle underlying each statement of counsel or instruction must be recognized in order to understand its relevance for those in different times or places" MOL 397.10.

“That which can be said of men under certain circumstances, cannot be said of them under other circumstances.”34Testimonies for the Church 3:470. 

Understanding the basic difference between principles and policies will help one avoid misusing either the Bible or the writings of Ellen White. 

Her writings were being taken out of context and misapplied in a narrow way. This was greatly stirring her mind because she understood the collateral damage on the church’s identity and mission when her writings are misrepresented and her authority is misused. I’m not sure what’s more unfortunate, the fact that some Adventists simply ignore her writings or the fact that others isolate her writings and apply them in a sloppy manner that is spiritually harmful. I tend to think the latter is worse. And God knows that I’ve been guilty of this, even if unintended.

The sad reality is that by 1904 this was nothing new. For over a decade Ellen White had been expressing concerns about Adventists quoting her writings and drawing conclusions that she did not intend. In 1890 she expressed her disappointment regarding some who were driving hard their own preconceived opinions by irresponsibly picking and choosing statements from her writings. “They quote half a sentence, leaving out the other half, which, if quoted, would show their reasoning to be false.” Ellen White, Selected Messages, Book 3, 217.

On other occasions she continued to lament that some Adventists were too careless in how they quoted her writings, looking for strong statements to bolster their own opinions. She warned that, “the extracts may give a different impression than that which they would were they read in their original connection.” Ellen White, Letter 49, 1894. See Selected Messages, Book 1, 58.

Common sense—that’s what she was appealing for. She exhorted Adventist believers to bear in mind the time in which she wrote, the place, and the circumstances that occasioned her pen. This is just basic, responsible reading. If this principle is essential in handling the biblical prophets, why would anyone assume anything different when dealing with the writings of an end-time prophet? She assured her readers, “Regarding the testimonies, nothing is ignored; nothing is cast aside; but time and place must be considered.” Ellen White, Selected Messages, book 1, 57.

As I think of this predicament, I’m reminded of Peter’s words as he too objected to the tendency of some first century believers who were twisting the apostle Paul’s words and making them mean something different than that originally intended. Peter lamented: “There are, of course, some things which are difficult to understand, and which, unhappily, ill-informed and unbalanced people distort (as they do the other scriptures), and bring disaster on their own heads.” He exhorted the believers to “be very careful” (2 Peter 3:16-17, Philips).

Peter’s warning is deeply relevant because, as is evident today, Christianity is warped into something quite different by misquoting and misapplying Scripture. So what effect does the misuse of Ellen White’s writings have on the image of Adventism and the religious experience of its adherents?

“I was surprised and enraptured with the clear views now presented to me of the atonement and the work of Christ.” It was those inspiring vistas that instilled in her “an inexpressible love for God,” a God well worth loving and serving. Ellen White, Life Sketches of Ellen White, 23

"...Don't you quote Sister White. I don't want you ever to quote Sister White until you get your vantage ground where you know where you are.Quote the Bible. Talk the Bible. It is full of meat, full of fatness. Carry it right out in your life, and you will know more Bible than you know now." (Spaulding-Magan Collection, p. 174).

H.M.J. Richards' Discussion with E.G. White [after she had dropped in on a service at the West Denver Colorado church when he was a young pastor]: "Now Sister White, there's something else that I'd like to find out. How should I use your writings in preaching?" She replied: "Here's the way to use them. First, ask God to give you your subject. When you have the subject chosen, then go to the Bible until you know for sure what the Bible really teaches on that pointAfter that, turn to the writings and see what you can find on the same subject and read that. It may cast light on it or guide you into other Scripture, or make some point clearer. When you go to the people, however, preach to them out of the Bible." (Story by H.M.J. Richards's son, H.M.S. Richards, repeated in Ministry Magazine, October, 1976, pp. 6-7).


"We must not trust to others to search the Scriptures for us. Some of our leading brethren have frequently taken their position on the wrong side; and if God would send a message and wait for these older brethren to open the way for its advancement, it would never reach the people." (GW 1913; p.303).

"The words of the Bible, and the Bible alone, should be heard from the pulpit." (Prophets and Kings, p. 626).

"The testimonies of Sister White should not be carried to the frontGod's Word is the unerring standard. The Testimonies are not to take the place of the Word.... Let all prove the positions from the Scriptures and substantiate every point they claim as truth from the revealed Word of God." (Evangelism, p. 256).

"The Bible is our rule of faith and doctrine." (Gospel Workers, p. 249).

"Believers are not to rest in suppositions and ill-defined ideas of what constitutes truth. Their faith must be firmly founded upon the Word of God." (Testimonies, Vol. 5, p. 708).

"The words of the Bible, and the Bible alone, should be heard from the pulpit." (Prophets and Kings, p. 626). The whole page (context) is emphasizing that “those who have heard only tradition and human theories and maxims [should] hear the voice of Him who can renew the soul unto eternal life.” MOL 397.3. “Some have taken an injudicious course; when they have talked their faith to unbelievers, and the proof has been asked for, they have read a vision, instead of going to the Bible for proof. I saw that this course was inconsistent, and prejudiced unbelievers against the truth. The visions can have no weight with those who have never seen them and know nothing of their spirit. They should not be referred to in such cases.” Testimonies for the Church 1:119, 120. See also Testimonies for the Church 5:669. In summary, Mrs. White never said that her writings should not be quoted in the Seventh-day Adventist church pulpit. MOL 397.4.
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