By Dirk Anderson, last updated October 2021
"Doubt and unbelief are cherished by those who do not walk circumspectly." --Ellen White, MS 1, 1883
While many of those who doubted Ellen White, such as A.T. Jones and Dr. Kellogg, left (or were expelled from) the SDA Church, others remained in the sect. Following is a list of SDA leaders who remained in the church while having reservations about Ellen White and her testimonies:
Joseph Bates, Adventist Pioneer - A witness to some of Ellen Harmon's early visions, Bates was, in his own words, "for a long time unwilling to believe that it [the visions] was any thing more than what was produced by a protracted debilitated state of her body."1 Later, Bates' doubts were erased when she conveniently had a vision on his favorite subject, astronomy.
"Elder Loughborough had been holding a series of lectures to us on the terrible cost of salvation for man. It meant that very God had to yield himself as a ransom. I think this is the belief by all Protestants today. He tells the story that the angels went to the Father to plead that they might die for the human race rather than Jesus die, and that God had said to them, 'No, if we would save man, God must die in his stead.' And that is a Biblical truth.
James White, Co-founder of the SDA Church - From the very beginning, James seemed to doubt some of his wife's visions. In an early vision, Ellen White wrote:
"I saw those who have been baptized as a door into the churches, would have to be baptized again as a door into the faith. Those who have not been baptized since 1844 will have to be before Jesus comes."5
As a result of this vision, many Adventists who had been previously baptized into Christian churches were re-baptized after 1844. However, James refused to be re-baptized. He reportedly told John Loughborough that he would have to "examine the Bible in regard to it."6 Obviously, James did not believe all his wife's visions aligned with Scripture.
At times James seemed to have little interest in Ellen's testimonies directed toward him:
"I shall use the old head God gave me until he reveals that I am wrong. Your head won't fit my shoulders. Keep it where it belongs, and I will try to honor God in using my own. I shall be glad to hear from you but don't waste your precious time and strength in lecturing me on matters of mere opinions."7
In later years, James was notorious for ignoring his wife's health testimonies. Mrs. White lamented that she could not take James along with her on her travels because he had "habits of eating and sleeping" that did not "impress the people correctly."8 She felt that James undermined her authority:
"You do not mean to do it, but many times you lessen faith in my testimonies by unguarded expressions and views and feelings which you manifest."9
Other Family Members of Ellen White - Of Ellen White's seven siblings, only sister Sarah would formally join the SDA church. Brother Robert accepted the Sabbath, but died before the formation of the SDA church. Sister Mary expressed some interest in the church but never joined. Ellen White blamed it on others, writing:
"J. Turner labored to turn my friends and even my relatives against me, and he succeeded in a measure."10
Mrs. White lamented that her son Edson was "pursuing your own course of action independent of Willie's and my advice and counsel."11 Edson later wrote back to his mother saying, "I have no religious inclinations now in the least."12 Later, when Edson made charges that his brother Willie was influencing the testimonies, Mrs. White retorted:
"I am cut to the heart when I think that my son gives occasion for disbelief in the testimonies that God has given me for his people, causing the confidence of some to be shaken."13
She urged him to stop expressing his doubts regarding her testimonies:
"If you do not decidedly change your course of action, you will do more to weaken the confidence of the church in the integrity of the Testimonies than all other influences combined can do."14
Franklin E. Belden was Ellen White's nephew. He wrote many hymns for the SDA Church. In 1888, at the General Conference session, he questioned Ellen White’s inspiration, supposing she was being influenced by W. C. White, A. T. Jones and E. J. Waggoner. Later, while working at the SDA Publishing House in Battle Creek, he reportedly said, "I have not known of one soul being converted through the reading of Great Controversy."15 He continued to harbor doubts about Ellen White for the remainder of his life. Shortly before he died he is reported to have said about her: "Do you still believe in that woman?"16
She not only doubted her mission, but she apparently doubted her own testimonies. Her practices on eating meat, wearing jewelry, paying tithe, and other issues seem to indicate she sometimes had little regard for her own testimonies.
Not only did critics doubt Ellen White. Her closest associates, her friends, and even her own family members had doubts about her. It was not just later generations who would doubt her. The people who knew her and heard her had their doubts about her. This was especially true in yer early years, when her "visions" supported the false doctrine of the "shut door of salvation. In a letter written in 1851 she lamented:
"The visions trouble many. They [know] not what to make of them."20
Ellen complained that the editor of the open door Adventist newspaper, the Advent Herald, said that her "visions were known to be 'the result of mesmeric operations.'"21 Some felt that Mrs. White's testimonies were not always originating from visions, but rather that she "had been told circumstances" by other people in the church.22 This widespread doubt is also mentioned in an article in 1883, where she admitted many doubted her strongly enough to publicly question her calling:
"These attacks have been repeated hundreds of times during the past forty year..."23
In 1919, S.N. Haskell wrote that many viewed Ellen White "as a good woman, albeit not necessarily inspired." These people had good reason to question and doubt Ellen White. After all, she failed most of the Biblical tests of a prophet.
1. A Word to the Little Flock, 1847, p. 21.
2. Ellen White, Testimonies, vol. 1, p. 246.
3. J.N. Andrews letter to James White, Feb. 2, 1862.
4. Harry Brown, Memoirs, 1984.
5. Ellen White, Spalding and Megan, p. 3. Vision of August 24, 1850.
6. "Test of Fellowship," Messenger of Truth, Oct 19, 1854, p. 3.
7. Letter quoted in Ellen G. White letter to Lucinda Hall, May 16, 1876.
8. Ellen White, Letter 7, 1878.
9. Ellen White, Letter 19, 1880.
10. Ellen White, Manuscript 9, 1859.
11. Ellen White, Letter 57, 1892.
12. Edson White, Letter to E.G. White, May 18, 1893.
13. Ellen White, Letter 209, 1905.
14. Ellen White, Letter 185, 1905.
15. Roger Coon, Minneapolis - 1888: The “Forgotten” Issue, (Loma Linda University, 1988), chapter 2, https://m.egwwritings.org/en/book/759.127#127.
17. Uriah Smith letter to D.M. Canright, Mar. 22, 1883.
18. Meeting notes from the Conference on the Spirit of Prophecy, 1919.
19. Ellen White, Review and Herald, 1856, p. 118.
20. Ellen White, Manuscript Releases, Vol. 5, p. 100.
21. Ellen White, Review and Herald, July 21, 1851.
22. Ellen White, Letter 7a, 1860. To Sister Harriet Smith, who seems to have had her own doubts about Ellen's "gift."
23. Ellen White, Review and Herald, Aug. 28, 1883.
24. S.N. Haskell to W. C. White and May L. White, 28 March 1919.
Category: Visions Examined
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