Ellen G. White’s contributions to the Seventh-day Adventist Church

A few words on how the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s formative years were influenced by one of its founders, Ellen G. White.

Gerhard Pfandl, PhD, now retired, served as an associate director, Biblical Research Institute, Silver Spring, Maryland, United States.

Ellen G. White’s contributions to the Seventh-day Adventist Church have been invaluable in many areas and throughout the history of the church, but particularly during the early years. The following contributions are among the most important ones.

Church organization

During the first 20 years of our church, there was no church organization because the Millerites and the early Adventists were against any church organization. They considered all organized churches as belonging to Babylon. Hence, there was no paid ministry; our pioneers worked at various jobs to make a living. James White, for example, mowed grass, cut wood, and worked on the construction of a railroad to support his family. Furthermore, anyone could preach, if he felt called; consequently, heresies prospered.

Also, the first buildings were in private hands. The question of legal ownership finally propelled the church into formal organization. In 1853, James White urged the believers to organize themselves, but resistance to organization was strong. A year later, Ellen White wrote, “The Lord has shown that gospel order has been too much feared and neglected. Formality should be shunned; but, in so doing, order should not be neglected. There is order in heaven. There was order in the church when Christ was upon the earth. . . .

“. . . The danger of those traveling whom God has not called, was shown me. . . .

“I saw that this door at which the enemy comes in to perplex and trouble the flock can be shut. I inquired of the angel how it could be closed. He said, ‘The church must flee to God’s Word and become established upon gospel order, which has been overlooked and neglected.’ ”1

Another six years passed before the first churches were organized in 1860 in Michigan. A year later, the Michigan Conference was organized, and in 1863, the General Conference. At that time, the total membership consisted of about 3,500 baptized believers. Today, the church has more than 18,000,000 members in more than 75,000 churches.


In 1848, Ellen White had a vision in the home of Otis Nichol in Dorchester, Massachusetts. When she came out of the vision, she said to her husband, James, “’I have a message for you. You must begin to print a little paper and send it out to the people. Let it be small at first; but as the people read, they will send you means with which to print, and it will be a success from the first. From this small beginning it was shown to me to be like streams of light that went clear round the world.’ ”2

“ ‘Streams of light . . . clear around the world’ ”! How could that be? Jesus was coming soon. Their numbers were few. There were no wealthy members and no great scholars among them. The world was unbelieving. And yet, here was a young woman who predicted that a work of publishing to be started by her penniless husband would grow until it would encompass the globe. More than half a year went by before James White could make even the smallest beginning; he arranged for the printing of a thousand copies of an eight-page paper on borrowed money. Today, the church has 63 publishing houses that produce books and magazines in more than 360 languages.

Health and medical work

Our pioneers, during the first 20 years of our history, were anything but health reformers, except for Joseph Bates. During the 1848 Sabbath Conferences, they sat together smoking their pipes. In that year, Ellen White was shown that tobacco, tea, and coffee are harmful, but it took many years to convince the membership to dispense with these harmful substances.

Then on June 6, 1863, Ellen White received a 45-minute vision in which the need for health reform was shown: “I saw that it was a sacred duty to attend to our health, and arouse others to their duty. . . . We have a duty to speak, to come out against intemperance of every kind,— intemperance in working, in eating, in drinking . . .—and then point them to God’s great medicine, water, pure soft water, for diseases, for health, for cleanliness. . . .

“I saw that we should not be silent upon the subject of health but should wake up minds to the subject.”3

Two years later, on December 25, 1865, Ellen White had a vision in Rochester, New York, in which she was shown that the church “should provide a home for the afflicted and those who wish to learn how to take care of their bodies that they may prevent sickness. . . .

“Our people should have an institution of their own, under their own control, for the benefit of the diseased and suffering among us who wish to have health and strength that they may glorify God in their bodies and spirits, which are His.”4 As a result, a year later, in September 1866, the Western Health Reform Institute in Battle Creek was opened. Today the church operates 175 hospitals and sanitariums and 270 clinics and dispensaries around the world.


In 1872, Ellen White received a vision on proper principles of education. A short time later she wrote 30 pages on what she had been told. “We need a school where those who are just entering the ministry may be taught at least the common branches of education, and where they may also learn more perfectly the truths of God’s word for this time.”5

On August 24, 1874, Battle Creek College opened its doors. Today, we have more than 7,000 elementary and secondary schools and more than 100 colleges and universities. Seventh-day Adventists have the largest Protestant school system in the world. Why? Because our pioneers took seriously what God told them through the prophet of the remnant church.


In the early decades of our history, they believed that the church was fulfilling God’s command to teach all nations by preaching to the immigrants in North America. Uriah Smith wrote in 1859, “We have no information that the Third [Angel’s] Message is at present being proclaimed in any country besides our own. . . . Our own land is composed of people from almost every nation.”6 To reach these nations in America, publications were prepared in many different languages.

When in 1864 M. B. Czechowski volunteered to go as a missionary to Europe, his request was turned down. He went to the First-day Adventists, and they sent him to Europe, where he preached the three angels’ messages and established Seventh-day Adventist companies. In the meantime, Ellen White educated the church about its worldwide responsibility. In 1871, she wrote, “Much can be done through the medium of the press, but still more can be accomplished if the influence of the labors of the living preachers goes with our publications. . . .

“When the churches see young men possessing zeal to qualify themselves to extend their labors to cities, villages, and towns that have never been aroused to the truth, and missionaries volunteering to go to other nations to carry the truth to them, the churches will be encouraged and strengthened.”7

And, in 1874, she had an impressive dream of giving the third angel’s message to the world. In the dream she was told, “‘You are entertaining too limited ideas of the work for this time. You are trying to plan the work so that you can embrace it in your arms. You must take broader views. Your light must not be put under a bushel or under a bed, but on a candlestick, that it may give light to all that are in the house. Your house is the world. . . .

“ ‘. . . The message will go in power to all parts of the world, to Oregon, to Europe, to Australia, to the islands of the sea, to all nations, tongues, and peoples.

. . . Your faith is limited, it is very small. Your conception of the work needs to be greatly enlarged.’ ”8

In 1874, John N. Andrews became the first official Seventh-day Adventist missionary. He and his children went to Switzerland, and three years later the John G. Matteson family was sent to Scandinavia. By 1890, Adventist missionaries  were  working  in 18 countries.

Today, out of the 238 countries in the  world   the  United  Nations  recognizes, Seventh-day Adventists have an established work in 216.


More than once Ellen White’s counsel prevented the church from making serious theological errors. For example, in the 1890s and early twentieth century, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, the director of Battle Creek Sanitarium, attempted to introduce pantheism into the church. In 1903, he and his followers, Dr. E. J. Waggoner, Elder A. T. Jones, and Dr. David Paulson, arrived in Washington to convince the Autumn Council of the General Conference Committee to accept Kellogg’s book, The Living Temple, which had previously been rejected because of its pantheistic contents.

Although this item was not part of the agenda, “the regular work was laid aside and a day was given to the consideration of the pantheistic philosophy.

. . . All day [the delegates] wrestled with the matter. . . . At about nine o’clock in the evening, Elder [A. G.] Daniells [the General Conference president, who was opposed to the book] considered it time to adjourn the meeting, but he did not dare call for a vote. People were too confused and uncertain, and he did not wish to take a step that would solidify any conclusions. So he dismissed the meeting, and the people [went] to their lodging places.

“Dr. Paulson, who was strongly supportive of Dr. Kellogg, joined    Daniells.  As the two walked along, they continued with the discussion of the day. Reaching the home where Daniells was staying, they stood under a lamppost and chatted  for a time. Finally, Dr. Paulson shook his finger at Daniells and declared: ‘You are   making  the  mistake  of   your  life. After all this turmoil, some of these days you will wake up to find yourself rolled in the dust, and another will be leading the forces.’ . . .

“Elder Daniells straightened up in his weariness and discouragement and replied firmly: ‘I do not believe your prophecy. At any rate, I would rather be rolled in the dust doing what I believe in my soul to be right than to walk with princes, doing what my conscience tells me is wrong.’ . . .

“After parting, Daniells entered the home, where  he found . . . ‘two messages from Mrs. White’ [waiting for him]. ‘. . . No one can imagine,’ recounts   Daniells, ‘the eagerness with which I read the documents that had come in the mail while we were in the midst of our discussions. There was a most positive testimony regarding the dangerous errors that were taught in The Living Temple.’ . . . The message had come just at the crisis hour. As he read, his  eyes  fell  on these words:

“ ‘I have some things to say to our teachers in reference to the new book The Living Temple. Be careful how you sustain the sentiments of this book regarding the personality of God. As the Lord presents matters to me, these sentiments do not bear the endorsement of God. They are a snare that the enemy has prepared for these last days. . . .

“ ‘In the visions of the night this matter was clearly presented to me before a large number. One of authority was speaking. . . . The speaker held up Living Temple, saying, “In this book there are statements that the writer himself does not comprehend.’ . . .

“In another document received from Sister White addressed to ‘Leaders in Our Medical Work’ . . . he read: ‘After taking your position finally, wisely, cautiously, make not one concession on any point concerning which God has plainly spoken. Be as calm as a summer evening; but as fixed as the everlasting hills.’ ”9

“The next morning church leaders assembled for their Council. After the prayer, Elder Daniells arose and told the brethren he had received two important messages from Sister White. Everyone was eager to hear them. They sat in thoughtful silence while he read. As statement after statement setting forth the falsity of the teachings of The Living Temple was presented to the assembly, many loud amens were heard and tears flowed freely. It was at that moment that the tide was turned” and pantheism was rejected.

When Elder Daniells sent a letter of thanks to Ellen White recounting the day’s events, he received a letter in response in which she explained why he had “received the messages just when he  did:

“ ‘Shortly before I sent the testimonies that you said arrived just in time, I had read an incident about a ship in a fog meeting an iceberg. . . . One night a scene was clearly presented before me. A vessel was upon the waters, in a heavy fog. Suddenly the lookout cried, “Iceberg just ahead!” There, towering high above the ship, was a gigantic iceberg. An authoritative voice cried out, “Meet it!” There was not a moment’s hesitation. It was a time for instant action. The engineer put on full steam, and the man at the wheel steered the ship straight into the iceberg. With a crash she struck the ice. There was a fearful shock, and the iceberg broke into many pieces, falling with a noise like thunder upon the deck. The passengers were violently shaken by the force of the collision, but no lives were lost. The vessel was injured, but not beyond repair. She rebounded from the contact, trembling from stem to stern like a living creature. Then she moved forward on her way.

“‘Well I knew the meaning of this representation. I had my orders. . . .

“‘This is why you received the testimonies when you did. That night I was up at one o’clock, writing as fast as my hand could pass over the paper.’ ”10


God used Ellen White several times to steer the church through different crises. Although she died in 1915, her writings continue to guide the leadership of the church as it faces new challenges. Hence, her writings are still relevant today. “Believe in the Lord your God, so shall ye be established; believe his prophets, so shall ye prosper” (2 Chron. 20:20, KJV).

1 Ellen G.White, Early Writings (Washington, DC: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1945), 97, 100.

2 Ellen G.White, Life Sketches of Ellen G.White(Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1915), 125.

3 Ellen G.White, Selected Messages (Washington, DC: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1980), 3:280.

4 Ellen G.White, Testimonies for the Church (MountainView, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1948), 1:489–92.

5 Ellen G.White, Fundamentals of Christian Education(Nashville,TN: Southern Pub. Assn., 1923), 45, 46.

6 Uriah Smith,“Editors Note,”Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, February 3, 1859, 87.

7 White, Life Sketches, 205.

8 Ibid., 208, 209.

9 Arthur L. White, Ellen G. WhiteThe Early Elmshaven Years: 1900-1905 (Washington, DC: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1981), 5:296–298.

10 Ibid., 299, 301.

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Gerhard Pfandl, PhD, now retired, served as an associate director, Biblical Research Institute, Silver Spring, Maryland, United States.

June 2015

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