Are There Prophets in the Modern Church?

The gift of prophecy and prophetic skepticism.

J.R. Spanger is editor of Ministry
Leo R. Van Dolson is an executive editor of Ministry.

 

In an age when charismatic gifts are being emphasized among Christians a claim that the gift of prophecy has been manifested in recent times is not so startling or earthshaking as it might otherwise seem. In fact, it is likely to create some inter est and attention and even careful consideration on the part of many.

Seventh-day Adventists believe that Ellen G. White was a recipient of the true gift of prophecy. But we also take a decided position, as published in our statement of fundamental beliefs, that the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament, given by inspiration of God, "contain an all-sufficient revelation of His will to men and are the only unerring rule of faith and practice."

How then do we relate Ellen White's gift to this basic belief in the Scriptures as an all-sufficient revelation of God's will to men? Ellen White herself gives a clear answer stating, "I recommend to you, dear reader, the Word of God as the rule of your faith and practice. By that Word we are to be judged. God has, in that Word, promised to give visions in the 'last days'; not for a new rule of faith, but for the comfort of His people, and to correct those who err from Bible truth." —Early Writings, p. 78.

Naturally, ever since the first startling claim to the prophetic gift was made, many sincere Christians have questioned the validity of the claim, and to the secular mind it seems strange indeed. In the August 2, 1976, religion section of Time magazine Ellen White's authenticity as a prophet was again questioned and several criticisms were cited based on one-sided or incomplete information. It seems to us that, generally speaking, most of those who criticize her writings are those who know the least about what she says.

It was not without a struggle with naturally expected skepticism that the infant Adventist Church came to accept the claims of Ellen White that she was given visions and messages from the Lord. Adventist leaders of the 1844 to 1845 period, when she first began to relate her visions, were "possibly hypersensitive and allergic to all occult influences because a segment of the . . . Second Advent believers had gone to extremes in the matter of spiritual gifts" (A. W. Spalding, Origin and History of Seventh-day Adventists, vol. 1, p. 58).

Her obvious Christian devotion and sincerity coupled with her own honest belief in her gift finally impressed them to at least consider the possibility that her messages might be from God. They were challenged to do so from such forthright scriptural injunctions as "quench not the Spirit," "despise not prophesying," "prove all things," "hold fast that which is good" (1 Thessalonians 5:19-21).

In April of 1847 one of the most influential early Adventists, Joseph Bates, stated concerning Ellen White's visions, "Although I could see nothing in them that militated against the Word, yet I felt alarmed and tried exceedingly, and for a long time unwilling to believe that it was anything more than what was produced by a protracted, debilitated state of her body. ... I have seen her in vision a number of times,. . . and those who were present during some of these exciting scenes know well with what interest and intensity I listened to every word, and watched every move to detect deception, or mesmeric influence. And I thank God for the opportunity I've had with others to witness these things. I can now confidently speak for myself. I believe the work is of God" (Remarks in Broadside, "A Vision," vol. 1, no. I, April 7, 1847 [Reprinted in "A Word to the Little Flock," p. 21]).

It was another eight years before formal action was taken by the church's General Conference that recognized that this gift was "coming from God." This hesitation was based on a fear, they confessed, of bearing "the reproach of Christ" and from a desire "to conciliate the feelings of our opponents." But they recognized "that God is not honored, nor His cause advanced by such a course." (Report of Conference, Review and Herald, December 4, 1855, p. 79.)

Through the years since then, Adventists have come to appreciate even more deeply what this gift has meant to the development and unity of our church. Without the insights and challenge provided by Ellen White we would not now have members in 185 countries or operate an "extensive system of 4,218 schools and 421 medical institutions" as the Time article reports. We would not be recognized for our phenomenal worldwide missionary endeavor and the financial support given it, which ranks among the largest amount of per capita contributions reported annually by Christian denominations. Neither would the millions of people who have been cured, or blessed by Adventist health and welfare work or who have stopped smoking at Adventist-run Five- Day Plans have been benefited from such ministry. Without the inspiration of Ellen White's messages the little handful of Adventists in the latter part of the nineteenth century would not have had courage to launch a worldwide "medical missionary" program with the very limited financial resources that it had.

Because so much of what you hear about Adventists and Ellen G. White is one-sided, we particularly invite our readers, both Adventists and non-Adventists, to carefully consider the information provided in the supplement.

—J.R. S./L. R. V.D.


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J.R. Spanger is editor of Ministry
Leo R. Van Dolson is an executive editor of Ministry.

July 1977

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