David Trim, PhD, is director of the Office of Archives, Statistics, and Research at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Silver Spring, Maryland, United States.

Ellen G. White famously urges the need for “revival and reformation.” Of these, revival has been what the church has recently focused on the most, perhaps because it is easy to understand what that is. But what did she mean by reformation? It is a term that she used some 1,400 times in her writings during her lifetime.

Reformation is repentance

In approximately 15 percent of Mrs. White’s references to reformation, she associates it with acknowledging our sins and repenting of them, whether to God or other church members. In a quarter of those instances, she uses the two words together, writing of “repentance and reformation” (or “reformation and repentance”). Such repeated incidence makes it clear that, for Ellen G. White, reformation and repentance go hand in hand.

For example, in The Great Controversy (amid many references to the historical Protestant Reformation), she writes: “Let the people of God arouse out of sleep and begin in earnest the work of repentance and reformation.”1 In Steps to Christ, she urges: “Confession will not be acceptable to God without sincere repentance and reformation. There must be decided changes in the life; everything offensive to God must be put away.”2

Reformation is a change of lifestyle

Ellen White, in her writings, often uses reformation to mean a change in lifestyle—and this is what often distinguishes it from her use of revival. She uses revival for a renewal of prayer and Bible study and to apply to a change in mind and spirit, which can and should flow from an increased connection to God and His Word. But reformation refers to concrete changes in the way we live our lives.

For example, in 1886, Ellen White wrote that Adventists should “not be satisfied with a mere sense of the truth; God calls for a reformation at every step.”3 In other words, reformation went beyond the mental or spiritual into the realm of practicalities. In 1888, in an article in the Signs of the Times, she encouraged church members that “the grace of Christ will enable you to overcome your perverted appetites, and begin a work of reformation in your life. You are not to follow the customs of the world.”4

Ellen White often uses reformation, then, to signify that there must be a change not only in our mind-set and approach to God (revival) but also in how we live our lives. Individual godliness needs to have real-world manifestation.

Reformation is corporate spiritual change

There is a third sense in which Ellen White used reformation: to mean corporate spiritual change, distinguishing it from an individual, or even collective, personal revival. And she used it this way when talking to church leaders.

In 1901, for example, talking to delegates to that year’s General Conference Session, she admonished: “There should be a general reformation.”5 In 1903, she affirmed: “In every institution among us there needs to be a reformation. This is the message that at the last General Conference I bore as the word of the Lord.”6 At the 1901 session, she later explained, “the Lord gave His people evidence that He was calling for reformation. Minds were convicted, and hearts were touched,” but unfortunately, it was not a “thorough work,” which remained to be done.7 Here we see a convergence of reformation being something that has to affect lifestyles and methods of work with reformation as the reform of church organization.

In 1904, she published one of her most powerful testimonies: “Unless the church . . . shall repent and be converted, she will eat of the fruit of her own doing, until she shall abhor herself. . . .

“The time has come for a thorough reformation to take place. When this reformation begins, the spirit of prayer will actuate every believer and will banish from the church the spirit of discord and strife.”8

Not enough

Revival is not enough. We also need reformation, in which “the spirit of prayer” actuates every believer. We need a church that is simple, pure, and true to God’s Word.

  1. Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1911), 398.
  2. Ellen G. White, Steps to Christ (Oakland, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1892), 39.
  3. Ellen G. White, Manuscript 5, 1886.
  4. Ellen G. White, “ ‘Your Reasonable Service,’ ” Signs of the Times, February 17, 1888, 1, 2.
  5. Ellen G. White, “An Appeal to Our Ministers: Talk to Ministers by Mrs. E. G. White, April 15, 1901,” General Conference Bulletin Extra, April 16, 1901, 267.
  6. Ellen G. White, “Lessons From Josiah’s Reign: Talk by Mrs. E. G. White,” General Conference Bulletin, April 1, 1903, 31.
  7. Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 8 (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1948), 97.
  8. Ibid., 250, 251.

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