March 21, 2007

Are We Still Protestant?

2007 1509 page5 capome months ago I noticed an exchange that took place in an issue of Adventist World (August 2006). In one of the letters to the editor a reader asked why Angel Manuel Rodríguez, in his column, “Bible Questions,” did not just cite some comments from Ellen White’s book The Desire of Ages to answer the question.
While acknowledging White’s authoritative role in the church, Rodríguez correctly reminded
the reader that as director of the Biblical Research Institute, he was expected to provide biblical answers to the question.
I concur. While extra-biblical sources may provide the same answers, in the larger, Christian community, only the words of Scripture have ultimate authority. That’s why a recent trend in Adventist circles concerns me. It seems as though Adventists are quoting Ellen White more and more and citing the Bible less and less—in clear contradiction to the classic Protestant principle sola Scriptura, roughly translated “the Bible and the Bible only.”
In letters to the editor that have recently appeared in both Adventist Review and Adventist World, it seems as though writers cite Ellen White over the Bible by a ratio of about two to one. In some books and magazine articles that ratio rises to about 10 to one. And I think I know why.
2007 1509 page5First, there’s ease of use. Anyone with a computer and Internet access can search thousands of pages of manuscripts in a few seconds with the help of the Ellen G. White Estate Web site ( or a CD-Rom that contain practically all the books and manuscripts Ellen White ever wrote. Type in a few key words and, voilà! you have everything she ever wrote on the subject.
Second, Ellen White’s writings are often easier to understand than the Bible. They were written in English, so those of us for whom English is our primary language hardly ever have to grapple with issues of translation or interpreting historical or cultural contexts (although the farther we get from the nineteenth century, the more those same issues will need to be addressed).
There’s no doubt that Ellen White was, and through her voluminous writings continues to be, one of the principal influences in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. But if our mission is to reach the larger communities in which we live, we should be judicious in our use of her counsels.
Last year I noticed an article in one of the church’s union papers about our assurance of salvation. In it, six comments from the pen of Ellen White were used to support the author’s premise. Biblical texts? Zero.
I could be wrong, but it seems to me that the Bible ought to have something to say about our assurance of salvation. And an article about assurance ought to reflect that. If it doesn’t, are we truly Protestant?
In our conversations with other Christians, unless we want to deal with the writings of Martin Luther, Joseph Smith, Mary Baker Eddy, Rick Warren, or John Paul II, we have to make the Bible our platform. Of course we can be informed by our study of Ellen White’s writings, but we must always be prepared to explain our positions on the basis of “the Bible, and the Bible only,” in harmony with dozens of her counsels to that effect.
And that goes for our communication with one another, as well. In many Adventist articles, books, and sermons, Ellen White is quoted in a manner that says, “Period! End of discussion!” I’ll leave it to others to discuss the nature of inspiration and revelation, but I will note that as we grow spiritually and intellectually we have to be open to clearer understandings of Scripture, as well as more generous interpretations of Ellen White’s counsels.
The apostle Paul wrote to his young protégé, Timothy: “From childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” Then he reminded him, “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:15-17, NRSV).*
Need we say more?
 *Bible texts credited to NRSV are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. Used by permission. 

Stephen Chavez is Managing Editor of the Adventist Review