Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Sola Scriptura? Sola EGW for many...

Recently I was reading an Adventist document where they were declaring that they base their theology on only the Bible. A personal story came to mind that illustrates how Adventist relate the Bible and Ellen White in practice.

About 4 years ago or so I was leading a Bible study through the book of Luke. We were working chapter by chapter through the book. One of the group had family in town and had brought her mother and father to the study. This family is a prominent Adventist family with a name that would be readily recognized. As we all sat with our Bibles in hand and I started leading the discussion, the mother asked me if I had a Desire of Ages (Ellen White book on the life of Christ. See also here and here on EGW literary sources, however). She used that book for the duration of the study, and even offered input and debate based on what Ellen White had written.

My wife and I have never forgotten that day. It so illustrated how many Adventists view the Bible. Rather than go through the verses a piece at a time and allow them to speak for themselves, and to compare the parallel passages in the other gospels, she had open the words of the Adventist prophet. She listened to everything I said and critiqued every point based on what was written in Desire of Ages rather than examine what the Bible said.

Never believe and Adventist when they say they believe in Sola Scriptura for two reasons. First, most - especially the older members - constantly are reading and referencing Ellen White on every topic. They've read Desire of Ages, Great Controversy and Steps to Christ since they were old enough, and the more conservative have spent a great deal of time in the Testimonies and other writtings. The writings of Ellen White have and continue to mold the theological thought. The second reason is that even if the person has not soaked their mind in her writing, without knowing it much of what they have been taught and heard week after week has been derived directly or indirectly from her writings.

The very categories and questions that the Adventist asks and believes are derived from her writings and from the historical theologies. The fact, for example, that there is a discussion over which apartment Christ went into when he went into the heavenly sanctuary is a question and a category that only the Adventist would ask. They will debate Hebrews 6, 9 and 10 trying to answer this falacy of a question. Yet this is not the point of Hebrews. (See my thoughts.)

Sola Scriptura? Don't believe it. They may read the Bible, and may even study it. But ultimately they will directly or indirectly turn to Ellen White as the inspired interpreter and allow her to dictate what a passage means or what a theological point should be. The official stance is "
her writings are a continuing and authoritative source of truth which provide for the church comfort, guidance, instruction, and correction." My experience growing up and pastoring in Adventism is that in basically every debate Ellen White is quoted; if you have your EGW quotes in better order, you win the debate. If you are armed with only Scripture, you lose, because you're interpretation does not match the inspired prophet's.

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