Kevin D. Paulsen in his article 1844: Embattled Yet Enduring relates what is often used as the definitive presupposition among many traditional Adventists. Paulsen puts forth the idea that Ellen White is authoritative in doctrinal matters. In the above article he writes:
9. The writings of Ellen White have no rightful authority in settling doctrinal controversy within the church.
If it is determined, on Bible grounds, that Ellen White possessed the true gift of prophecy, her authoritative role in settling spiritual disputes of any kind is beyond question. If, by contrast, she fails one or more prophetic test found in Scripture, she has no authority whatsoever.
His language here is probably a bit sloppy because we know from the Bible that the gift of prophecy in itself does not make anyone authoritative in the realm of doctrine. The Bible tells us of an enemy of God who prophesied about Jesus:
Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, "You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish." He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation… (John 11:49-51 NIV)
If we let Paulsen’s language pass for the moment and assume that what he means is that “if” Ellen White held the position of a prophet then she should have doctrinal authority. That is a huge “if”, one does not have to be too familiar with the SDA church before they become aware that there are many in and outside of the SDA church who indeed question Ellen White’s role as a prophet. In reference to prophets Paulsen writes:
A prophet is not authoritative because he or she is canonical. Rather, a prophet is canonical because he or she is authoritative.
This is a very true statement, yet we find that outside the SDA church there are few who hold to Ellen White as authoritative, which naturally means that she is definitely not viewed as canonical. One thing that is certainly true is that the broader Christian spectrum who have no hesitation in accepting the canonical authority of the prophets recorded in the Bible, do not accept Ellen White as authoritative.
If in fact Ellen White is a true prophet, her counsel in matters of doctrine, worship, lifestyle, and all else is the counsel of God Himself. And while her writings contain no truths or principles not found in the Bible, she is clear in those writings that God appointed her to speak authoritatively to His church regarding issues of truth and error:
As I have already pointed out the concept that Ellen White is a true prophet is not an accepted Christian view. Which means that to other Christians Ellen White’s counsel in matters of doctrine, worship and lifestyle and all else is not viewed as counsel from God Himself. If Adventists insist on using Ellen White as a prophet for doctrine then they separate themselves from all other Christians. Other Christians draw their doctrines from the Bible but if Paulsen’s view is used then Adventist draw their doctrines from Ellen White’s view of the Bible. That means that in order to show fellow Christians our doctrines are correct we first have to convince them that Ellen White is a prophet, authoritative and deserving of being canonical.
If Paulsen’s view above where he says that, “while her writings contain no truths or principles not found in the Bible…” there should be absolutely no need to hold Ellen White as an authority. All doctrines could be directly sourced to the Bible. There is however two likely reasons why Paulsen wants to hold Ellen White as a doctrinal authority. Those being first, clearly Ellen White presents numerous things which are indeed not found in the Bible. Second the use of Ellen White is desirable to be used when Bible interpretations differ. Ellen White however contrary to the idea that she agrees with the Bible actually has been known to hold to interpretations which are contrary to the Bible as well as presenting much extrabiblical information . Ellen White did not know the language of the Bible or rely upon those who did know the language. So her reliance upon only one translation that presents a distorted view of the actual Greek text led to a serious error in Bible doctrine incorporated into the Adventist Investigative Judgment doctrine. If you compare Act from the King James Bible with practically any other version you will immediately see the error.
Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord; (Acts KJV)
Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, (Acts NIV)
Here the NIV is much more accurate, but to those who relied on the King James Bible they interpreted the blotting out to occur at some future time. As Ellen White says:
The work of the investigative judgment and the blotting out of sins is to be accomplished before the second advent of the Lord. Since the dead are to be judged out of the things written in the books, it is impossible that the sins of men should be blotted out until after the judgment at which their cases are to be investigated. But the apostle Peter distinctly states that the sins of believers will be blotted out "when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord; and He shall send Jesus Christ." Acts , 20. When the investigative judgment closes, Christ will come, and His reward will be with Him to give to every man as his work shall be. (The Great Controversy 1911 edition page 485)
She then tied the “times of refreshing” to the Latter Rain doctrine popularized by the
The great work of the gospel is not to close with less manifestation of the power of God than marked its opening. The prophecies which were fulfilled in the outpouring of the former rain at the opening of the gospel are again to be fulfilled in the latter rain at its close. Here are "the times of refreshing" to which the apostle Peter looked forward when he said: "Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord; and He shall send Jesus." Acts , 20. (The Great Controversy 1911 edition page 611)
Adventists have known of this misinterpretation from Ellen White’s own time to the present however it seems convenient for most Adventists to ignore this problem rather then rethink their traditions. In fact you will find that this text is not even mentioned in the Lesson Study Guide for this quarter. Strikingly the Lesson Study Guide does not even give the traditional SDA view of the Investigative Judgment. It does however assume that the reader knows and accepts at least on some level that traditional view. For example the lesson for Monday September 11:
As Adventists, we understand the cleansing of the sanctuary as a judgment that involves those who have professed to be followers of Christ (see Matt. 22:1-13). We see this especially because in the earthly type of the cleansing of the sanctuary, the Day of Atonement (see Leviticus 16), the judgment centered around God's people.
It appears that it is not only Progressive SDA’s that are severely disappointed with the material in this quarter’s lesson, but so are the Traditional SDA’s who complain that the new theology is being taught instead of the traditional historic Investigative Judgment. As Robert Wielend recently wrote on the Spectrum website in respect to the “daily” of Daniel:
The pioneers had a clear and cogent idea about it that they defended. Lesson 11 this quarter promotes an alternative view known as "the new" one, not divulging to the reader that a "pioneer view" exists.
Abandonment of what Ellen White called "the correct view of the daily" (Early Writings, 75) is the horseshoe "nail," the want of which has been the key factor in some prominent scholars and leaders abandoning the sanctuary doctrine and even leaving the Church.
The lines are being clearly drawn in the SDA church and has often been the case the lines are being drawn around people’s use of Ellen White, whether she is to be an authority on doctrine from which we must never stray or whether she was a person of her times who could be wrong in her doctrinal views.