As I’m wrapping up my journey through the nine volumes of the Testimonies for the Church (published between 1855 to 1909), I have wondered: what would Ellen G. White say to me, or for that matter, to the church today?
When I was a student intern at the White Estate back in the 1990s I had several of my friends tease me. It was the time of the “What Would Jesus Do” (WWJD) bracelets. Some of them teased: “What Would Ellen Do?” Or, “What Would Ellen Say?”
In all candor, I think that Ellen G. White has a lot to say to the church today from the Testimonies for the Church. As she once opined: Few are alarmed or astonished at their want of spiritual power. Doubt, and even disbelief of the testimonies of the Spirit of God, is leavening our churches everywhere. Satan would have it thus. . . . The testimonies are unread and unappreciated. God has spoken to you.”
From a macro perspective there seem to be recurring themes that are emphasized so consistently and with such vigor that I would hazard to summarize them. I make an attempt to update the terminology to make them applicable to today (not in any particular order):
(1) Christians are kind and loving. One of the consistent challenges among early Adventists were church members who professed the truth, but did not live it how they treated their spouse, family, or other church members. In fact, it should impact business transactions. Adventists should live honest and courteous lives that show that we live the truth.
(2) The health message is a lifestyle. For every time that Ellen White talks about a vegetarian diet in the Testimonies, she talks many more times about the importance of exercise and fresh air. Based on some of her followers who compiled the postumous Counsels on Diet and Foods a person might be tempted to think she was obsessed about the foods you eat, and while she did have important things to say about that, she was far more concerned that people exercise.
(3) Jesus is the center of Adventist theology and lifestyle. It doesn’t matter what the circumstance calling forth a message of rebuke, the solution is routinely the same: Jesus Christ. Consistently she is deeply troubled that Adventist theology is becoming too theoretical and that the truth needs to filter down to experience.
(4) Avoid Adventist meccas. The Battle Creek Church receives more “testimonies” or admonitions than any other church. And closely connected with that are her warnings not to congregate in Battle Creek, as early as the 1860s and extending to the end of her life. She warns that there is a tendency for Adventists to congregate in places together, and she encourages church members to let their light shine in other places. Adventists need to prioritize a sense of mission.
(5) Addictions are dangerous. Ellen White warns that Adventists need to be careful about addictions. While some of them are well known such as checkers, chess, or certain competitive sports, others are less known such as the picture craze of the 1870s. While a few individuals still hearken back to these counsels, I think it would do much more good to look at the principle underlying these counsels. What would Ellen White say about video games and the addiction to online media? I think she has a great deal to say and her warnings, if taken seriously, should be a wake-up call about modern manifestations and dangers from the many varied forms of addiction that exist today.
(6) Adventists are gullible. Repeatedly Ellen White warns about Adventists get duped by peddlers who are selling life insurance or some other scam. Other Adventists are obsessed with get rich schemes, even pyramid schemes. As a pastor I never ceased to be amazed at how church members used their relationship to other church members to try to advance some kind of product. Apparently the same problem existed in the nineteenth century. Adventists have a tendency to gullibility. Ellen G. White repeatedly encourages people to use caution and common sense.
(7) Avoid extremes. Perhaps the most interesting counsels by Ellen G. White are about how she inteprets and reinterprets her own writings. Some Adventists didn’t take her counsels seriously, while others had a tendency to become rigid and go to extremes. Ellen G. White advocated balance. The nine volumes of the Testimonies for the Church, more than anything else, help to provide insight into how her writings were meant to be interpreted in a healthy and balanced way. At least, they give insight as to how she intended for them to be interpreted. And repeatedly I am impressed at what a balanced person she was dealing with so many different personalities, and her appeals for people to avoid extremes.