Part of the seven pillars of the SDA Church is the “spirit of prophecy” which they use as a catchphrase to refer to Jesus speaking in the writings of Ellen G. White. They believe her writings to be divinely inspired and correcting of inaccurate interpretations of scripture. They also claim that, because she had the “spirit of prophecy” found in Revelation 19:10, her writings function as the infallible interpreter of the infallible Bible. They also teach that this is the identifying mark of an end times remnant church which demonstrates that they fit the bill.
G.I. Butler, SDA pioneer and former General Conference president, speaking of Ellen White’s writings and their importance to Seventh-Day Adventism wrote:
Our position on the Testimonies [Ellen White’s writings] is like the key-stone to the arch. Take that out, and there is no logical stopping-place till all the special truths of the message are gone. Our enemies, and the master they serve, realize this; but some of our people are so blind that they do not.The Review & Herald Supplement, August 14, 1883
Without Ellen White’s writings, it will inevitably lead to the purpose and “special truths” of the SDA Church vanishing. To say that this is foundational to their existence would be an understatement.
It’s important in this discussion to define terms. The word “prophecy” means “to stand before.” There is revelatory prophecy where an individual received new and direct revelation from God, becoming his mouthpiece of this direct revelation. This gift does not exist today. The word can also be used to refer to an individual reiterating what has already been revealed in the Word of God, the gift of preaching. This most certainly happens today.
In the Old Testament, God promised to speak through His true prophets which is why there are constant warnings regarding how God’s people were to identify false prophets (Deuteronomy 13:1-5, 18:15-22) and what the response to them was to be (Deuteronomy 18:22, Jeremiah 23, Ezekiel 13:1-10). The fact that only certain individuals would have the spirit of prophecy was not ideal which is why the prophets of old looked forward to a better day when all of God’s people would have the fullness of the Spirit who would write God’s Word on the heart (Jeremiah 31:34, Ezekiel 36:26) which would make the function and office of revelational prophet unnecessary.
Prophets like Joel foresaw a day when all believers would receive the Word of God and speak it to one another with understanding (Joel 2:28–32), with the end goal being unity between God and man that could not be fully realized with a prophetic figure standing between God and His people. This was achieved by Jesus, God incarnate, who expressed solidarity with His people (John 1:1-18). After the completion of the work of Christ in redemption, the Holy Spirit was poured out at Pentecost (Acts 2) which was a fulfillment of what Joel prophesied.
It was this action, which the prophets of old anticipated, that rendered the Old Covenant revelatory prophetic gift obsolete (1 John 2:27). God has spoken fully and finally in His Son (Hebrews 1:1-4).
The SDA Church, along with the Ellen G. White Estate, have borrowed similar argumentation that those in the charismatic movement have—which is that applying standards such as Deuteronomy 18:22 are not applicable to New Testament prophets because there is a different level of authenticity when it comes to “non-canonical prophets.” Her Estate claims:
Because the writings of Ellen G. White were not intended to be canonical, not purposed as applicable to all people in all places in all times, therefore the element of miracle associated with them is less than that associated with the writing of Scripture. This is not to say that there is within the canon “degrees” of inspiration. It is to say that outside the canon we should not expect the same precision as was necessary for the Word.Understanding Ellen White (UEGW 56.2)
This has allowed them to dismiss the inaccuracies of Ellen White the same way Pentecostals and other charismatics will have “words from God” that do not come to pass or are in outright error. Yet, the individual is still supposed to be believed as having direct revelation from God.
While they assert that Ellen G. White was not a canonical prophet, her writings are not to be seen as an addition to the canon of scripture, they don’t function as though she is seen as a localized prophet who spoke to a particular generation with their gifting and work ceasing once the person passes. Her writings within Adventism are seen as just as authoritative as scripture itself over 100 years after her death. Not only that, but they function as the infallible interpreter of scripture, which means one can’t even understand the Bible correctly without her writings to guide you.
The reality is, the SDA Church treats Mrs. White no differently than the prophets of old, which is why her Estate continues by saying:
A careful overview of what the Bible says about prophetic inspiration leads to some significant conclusions. From the perspective of divine authorship, there is no explicit hierarchy of prophetic authority between literary and nonliterary, canonical and noncanonical prophets. All true prophets are considered God’s spokespeople in comforting, guiding, and admonishing the people. This principle is well expressed in Christ’s words to the Seventy, “He who hears you hears Me, he who rejects you rejects Me, and he who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me” (Luke 10:16).Understanding Ellen White (UEGW 56.6)
While they may claim that Mrs. White is not an addition to scripture, functionally speaking, there is no difference in how her writings and scripture function within the movement. It’s merely semantics to act as though the SDA Church doesn’t view her writings as on par with scripture.
Even if God were still giving new revelation through a prophetic mouthpiece, the New Testament does not nullify the standard God has previously set forth such that God is now unable to communicate clearly or is okay with people bearing His name falsely. If someone claims to be speaking for God, have a unique word from Him, they are claiming to be His mouthpiece. Doing so falsely in the Old Testament was considered a crime worthy of stoning (Deuteronomy 13:1-5). The New Covenant does not not nullify the severity with which God feels about those who speak falsely on His behalf (Jeremiah 23:25-30), which is what the third commandment is actually all about (Exodus 20:7).
Even if the gift of prophesy entailing new revelation was still active, Ellen G. White does not pass the biblical test of a prophet which is why the SDA Church, like many charismatics, has to appeal to a unique New Testament standard that allows someone to speak falsely, erroneously, etc. while still claiming the person was a prophet. When the SDA Church claims to be the “commandment keeping church of the end times,” its interesting they make a loophole for the third commandment that their prophetess so regularly violated.
Scripture is authoritative, inerrant, and infallible by virtue of the source from which is came—God himself. God has spoken clearly in His Word, led the canonization of that Word, and has kept that Holy Word preserved for us today such that it can be read in languages all across the globe. We do not need modern prophets to provide new revelation, especially one which now becomes the means by which we have to now interpret what God has already revealed in the Sacred Scriptures.
As John Chrysostom, early church father said, regarding both the clarity and sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures:
…[the Apostle John] did not hide his teaching in mist and darkness, as they did who through obscurity of of speech, like a kind of veil, around the mischiefs laid up within. But this man’s doctrines are clearer than sunbeams, wherefore they have been unfolded to all men throughout the world. For he did not teach as Pythagoras did, commanding those who came to him to be silent for five years, or to sit like senseless stones; neither did he invent fables defining the universe to consist of numbers; but casting away all this devilish trash and mischief, he diffused such simplicity through his words, that all he said was plain, not only to wise men, but also to women and youths. For he was persuaded that the words were true and profitable to all that should harken them.Homilies #2 on the Gospel of John, ~398 AD
Christians do not need an extra biblical, prophetic interpretive mouthpiece such as Ellen G. White to understand scripture.