El en G. White and God One, Two or Three? Denis Fortin Baden W rt emberg Conference Stut gart, Germany July 2007
References The content of this presentation is adapted from: Jerry Moon. The Adventist Trinity Debate, Part 1: Historical Overview (AUSS [41:1] Spring 2003, 113 129); and The Adventist Trinity Debate, Part 2: The Role of El en G. White (AUSS [41:2] Autumn 2003, 275 292). W. Whidden, J. Moon, J.W. Reeve. The Trinity: Understanding God s love, His plan of salvation, and Christian relationships (RHPA 2002), 190 231.
Debate over the Trinity Some Evangelical Christians are questioning traditional Trinitarianism Some Adventists believe church leaders and theologians sold out the original Adventist belief on the doctrine of God for the sake of public relations and ecumenical goodwill.
Debate over the Trinity A brief look at the development of our historical views on the Trinity will show that Ellen White played an influential role in helping us accept a biblical view of God, without the constraints of some unbiblical philosophical presuppositions.
Adventism and the Trinity Three periods of development in Adventist history: 1. Anti Trinitarianism: 1846 1888 2. Dissatisfaction with Anti Trinitarianism: 1888 1898 3. Paradigm shift: 1898 1915
Anti trinitarianism: 1846 1888 During this early period, the majority of Adventists rejected the concept of the Trinity at least as they understood it. James White, J.N. Andrews, A.C. Bourdeau, D.T. Bourdeau, R.F. Cottrell, A.T. Jones, W.W. Prescott, J.H. Waggoner
Joseph Bates Respecting the trinity, I concluded that it was impossible for me to believe that the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, was also the Almighty God, the Father, one and the same being.
Reasons for rejecting Trinitarianism 1. Early Adventists did not see biblical evidence for three persons in one Godhead. 2. They thought the Trinity made the Father and the Son identical.
Reasons for rejecting Trinitarianism 3. They believed the misconception that the doctrine of the Trinity teaches the existence of three Gods. J.N. Loughborough: If Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are each God, it would be three Gods (1861).
Reasons for rejecting Trinitarianism 4. They believed the doctrine of the Trinity would diminish the value of the atonement. J.H. Waggoner (1884): Since the everliving, self existent God cannot die, then if Christ had self existence as God, he couldn t have died on the cross.
Reasons for rejecting Trinitarianism 5. The fact that Christ is cal ed Son of God and the beginning of the creation of God (Rev 3:14) was thought to prove that he must be of more recent origin than God the Father. 6. The variety of expressions used to refer to the Holy Spirit indicate that it could not properly be considered a person.
Reasons for rejecting trinitarianism Jerry Moon: These arguments made sense within an overall antitrinitarian paradigm, but when that paradigm was called into question, these points were recognized as being capable of fitting either interpretation. None of these is a valid objection to the basic trinitarian concept of one God in three Persons. (AUSS 41:118)
Dissatisfaction with anti Trinitarianism, 1888 1898 The 1888 emphasis on righteousness by faith and the consequent exaltation of the cross of Christ called into question whether a subordinate, derived divinity of Christ could adequately account for the saving power of Christ.
Dissatisfaction with anti Trinitarianism, 1888 1898 Although still semi Arian in his perspective, in 1890 E. J. Waggoner urged the necessity to set forth Christ s rightful position of equality with the Father, in order that His power to redeem may be better appreciated. Christ has life in Himself ; He possesses immortality in His own right. (Christ and His Righteousness, pp. 19 22)
Dissatisfaction with anti Trinitarianism, 1888 1898 Jerry Moon: Waggoner was not yet fully trinitarian [by 1890 when he wrote his book Christ and His Righteousness], but he saw clearly that a more exalted conception of Christ s work of redemption demanded a higher conception of his being as Deity.
Paradigm shift: 1898 1915 The publication of Ellen White s Desire of Ages in 1898 set the stage for a paradigm shift in the Adventist conception of the Godhead and the doctrine of the Trinity. However, the shift from anti Trinitarianism to a biblical Trinitarianism did not happen overnight.
The Desire of Ages (1898) On the first page of the book, Ellen White affirmed: From the days of eternity the Lord Jesus Christ was one with the Father (19).
The Desire of Ages (1898) In the chapter on the resurrection of Lazarus, in which Jesus affirms to Martha that he is the resurrection and the life, Ellen White states that In Christ is life, original, unborrowed, underived. . . . The divinity of Christ is the believer s assurance of eternal life (530).
The Desire of Ages (1898) In commenting on Christ s resurrection, Ellen White declared, The Saviour came forth from the grave by the life that was in Himself (785).
The Desire of Ages (1898) The book included also clear statements about the personhood of the Holy Spirit. Sin could be resisted and overcome only through the mighty agency of the Third Person of the Godhead (671).
El en White s role Jerry Moon: Her writings about the Godhead show a clear progression, not primarily from anti to protrinitarianism, but from relative ambiguity to greater specificity. Some of her early statements are capable of various interpretations, but her later statements, 1898 1906, are explicit to the point of being dogmatic. (AUSS 41:278)
El en White s role Jerry Moon: Her change of view appears clearly to have been a matter of growth and progression, rather than reversal, because unlike her husband and others of her associates, she never directly attacked the view of the Trinity that she would later explicitly support. (AUSS 41:278)
El en White s role From the beginning of her ministry, Ellen White portrayed God as a personal, literal, and tangible being, in contrast to spiritualizers and deists who viewed God as a distant, impersonal, mystical, and ultimately unreal being.
El en White s role Ellen White did not at first recognize God s Trinitarian nature, but when she did in the 1890s and 1900s, she described God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and as real individuals.
El en White s role She emphasized their threeness as willing, thinking, social, and relational persons, and explained their oneness in terms of nature, character, purpose, and love, but not in terms of being one person.
El en White s early visions I saw a throne, and on it sat the Father and the Son. I gazed on Jesus’ countenance and admired His lovely person. The Father’s person I could not behold, for a cloud of glorious light covered Him. I asked Jesus if His Father had a form like Himself. He said He had, but I could not behold it, for said He, If you should once behold the glory of His person, you would cease to exist. (EW 54)
El en White s early visions I have often seen the lovely Jesus, that He is a person. I asked Him if His Father was a person and had a form like Himself. Said Jesus, I am in the express image of My Father’s person. (EW 77, emphasis hers)
Spiritual Gifts, vol. 1 (1858) *In her first three chapters, The Fal of Satan, The Fal of Man, and The Plan of Salvation, she mentions the Father and the Son discussing together how to deal with Lucifer and the fal of Adam and Eve. There is no mention of the Holy Spirit. But in the fol owing chapter, The First Advent of Christ, she refers to al three persons of the Godhead in the narration of Jesus baptism.
The Suf erings of Christ (1869) This Saviour was the brightness of His Father’s glory and the express image of His person. He possessed divine majesty, perfection, and excellence. He was equal with God. (2T 200)
Spirit of Prophecy, vol. 2 (1877) The Son of God was in the form of God, and he thought it not robbery to be equal with God. (2SP 10)
Let er to Waggoner and Jones (1887) It was poverty that as He passed to and fro among the subjects He came to save, scarcely a solitary voice cal ed Him blessed, scarcely a solitary hand was stretched out in friendship, and scarcely a solitary roof prof ered Him shelter. Then look beneath the disguise, and whom do we see? Divinity, the Eternal Son of God, just as mighty, just as infinitely gifted with al the resources of power, and He was found in fashion as a man. (1888 Materials, 28)
Great Controversy (1888) Another dangerous error, is the doctrine that denies the divinity of Christ, claiming that he had no existence before his advent to this world. This theory is received with favor by a large class who profess to believe the Bible; yet it directly contradicts the plainest statements of our Saviour concerning his relationship with the Father, his divine character, and his pre existence. It cannot be entertained without the most unwarranted wresting of the Scriptures. . . .
Great Controversy (1888) If men reject the testimony of the inspired Scriptures concerning the divinity of Christ, it is in vain to argue the point with them; for no argument, however conclusive, could convince them. . . . None who hold this error can have a true conception of the character or the mission of Christ, or of the great plan of God for man’s redemption. (GC88 524)
Great Controversy (1888) Before the entrance of evil, there was peace and joy throughout the universe. . . . Christ the Word, the only begot en of God, was one with the eternal Father, one in nature, in character, and in purpose, the only being in al the universe that could enter into al the counsels and purposes of God. By Christ, the Father wrought in the creation of al heavenly beings. . . . and to Christ, equal y with the Father, al Heaven gave al egiance. (GC88 493)
Patriarchs and Prophets (1890) The Son of God shared the Father’s throne, and the glory of the eternal, self existent One encircled both. (PP 36) Later in the book, Ellen White identifies Christ as the great I AM who spoke with Moses on Mount Sinai, the Jehovah of the Old Testament. (PP 366)
Special Testimonies for Ministers and Workers (1897) Evil had been accumulating for centuries, and could only be restrained and resisted by the mighty power of the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Godhead, who would come with no modified energy, but in the fulness of divine power. (SpTA10 25)
The Desire of Ages (1898) In Christ is life, original, unborrowed, underived. . . . The divinity of Christ is the believer s assurance of eternal life (530) and the Holy Spirit is the Third Person of the Godhead (671).
El en White s role Jerry Moon: There is a clear progression from the simple to the complex, suggesting that Ellen White s understanding did grow and change as she received additional light. (AUSS 41:284)
Kel ogg Crisis (1902 1907) Dr. J.H. Kellogg theorized that the life of every living thing whether tree, flower, animal, or human had the very essence of God within it. His view was published in The Living Temple (1903).
Kel ogg Crisis (1902 1907) Kellogg: God is the explanation of nature not a God outside of nature, but in nature, manifesting himself through and in all the objects, movements, and varied phenomena of the universe. (Living Temple, p. 28)
Kel ogg Crisis (1902 1907) The problems with Kellogg s views: 1. God dwells intrinsically in all animated beings 2. God s power equals his presence 3. He claimed Ellen White agreed with his view
Kel ogg Crisis (1902 1907) Ellen White s capstone statements on her view of the Godhead came in reaction to Kellogg s pantheistic teachings.
Let er to Teachers at Emmanuel Missionary Col ege (1903) 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 represents mat ers to me, these sentiments do not bear the endorsement of God. They are a snare that the enemy has prepared for these last days. I thought that this would surely be discerned, and that it would not be necessary for me to say anything about it. But since the claim has been made that the teachings of this book can be sustained by statements from my writings, I am compel ed to speak in denial of this claim. (continued)
Let er to Teachers at Emmanuel Missionary Col ege (1903) There may be in this book expressions and sentiments that are in harmony with my writings. And there may be in my writings many statements which when taken from their connection, and interpreted according to the mind of the writer of “Living Temple” would seem to be in harmony with the teachings of this book. This may give apparent support to the assertion that the sentiments in “Living Temple” are in harmony with my writings. But God forbid that this opinion should prevail. (Let er 211, 1903 in SpM 320)
Let er to Teachers at Emmanuel Missionary Col ege (1903) The new theories in regard to God and Christ, as brought out in “The Living Temple”, are not in harmony with the teaching of Christ. The Lord Jesus came to this world to represent the Father. He did not represent God as an essence pervading nature, but as a personal being. Christians should bear in mind that God has a personality as verily as has Christ. (Let er 212, 1903 in SpM 324)
Special Testimonies, B (1905) * I am instructed to say, The sentiments of those who are searching for advanced scientific ideas are not to be trusted. Such representations as the fol owing are made: “The Father is as the light invisible; the Son is as the light embodied; the Spirit is the light shed abroad.” “The Father is like the dew, invisible vapor; the Son is like the dew gathered in beauteous form; the Spirit is like the dew fal en to the seat of life.” Another representation: “The Father is like the invisible vapor; the Son is like the leaden cloud; the Spirit is rain fal en and working in refreshing power.” (continued)
Special Testimonies, B (1905) * Al these spiritualistic representations are simply nothingness. They are imperfect, untrue. They weaken and diminish the Majesty which no earthly likeness can be compared to. God can not be compared with the things His hands have made. These are mere earthly things, suf ering under the curse of God because of the sins of man. The Father can not be described by the things of earth. (SpTB07 62)
Special Testimonies, B (1905) * The Father is al the fulness of the Godhead bodily, and is invisible to mortal sight. The Son is al the fulness of the Godhead manifested. The Word of God declares Him to be “the express image of His person.” “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begot en Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Here is shown the personality of the Father. (SpTB07 63)
Special Testimonies, B (1905) The Comforter that Christ promised to send after He ascended to heaven, is the Spirit in al the fulness of the Godhead, making manifest the power of divine grace to al who receive and believe in Christ as a personal Saviour. There are three living persons of the heavenly trio; in the name of these three great powers the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit those who receive Christ by living faith are baptized, and these powers wil co operate with the obedient subjects of heaven in their ef orts to live the new life in Christ. (SpTB07 63)
The Word Was Made Flesh (1906) * Before men or angels were created, the Word was with God, and was God. The world was made by Him, “and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:3). If Christ made all things, He existed before all things. The words spoken in regard to this are so decisive that no one need be left in doubt. Christ was God essentially, and in the highest sense.
The Word Was Made Flesh (1906) * He was with God from all eternity, God over all, blessed forevermore. The Lord Jesus Christ, the divine Son of God, existed from eternity, a distinct person, yet one with the Father. He was the surpassing glory of heaven. He was the commander of the heavenly intelligences, and the adoring homage of the angels was received by Him as His right. (RH April 5, 1906, also in 1SM 247 248)
El en White s doctrine of the Godhead She refutes the assumption that al doctrines of the Trinity are the same and that objections to one demands the rejection of al . She rejects views that teach God is a formless, intangible, impersonal being, or simply a force in nature. She cal s these views spiritualistic theories.
El en White s doctrine of the Godhead She embraces a literal, biblical view of the Godhead she never uses the word Trinity. God includes three individual divine personalities, who in nature, character, purpose, and love are one.
El en White s doctrine of the Godhead She rejects the traditional philosophical presuppositions of timelessness and impassibility of God. Her biblical view of God sees God as active within our time and space limitations; he is genuinely involved in our lives.
Acts of the Apostles (1911) It is not essential for us to be able to define just what the Holy Spirit is. Christ tells us that the Spirit is the Comforter, “the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father.” It is plainly declared regarding the Holy Spirit that, in His work of guiding men into all truth, “He shall not speak of Himself.” John 15:26; 16:13.
Acts of the Apostles (1911) The nature of the Holy Spirit is a mystery. Men cannot explain it, because the Lord has not revealed it to them. Men having fanciful views may bring together passages of Scripture and put a human construction on them, but the acceptance of these views wil not strengthen the church. Regarding such mysteries, which are too deep for human understanding, silence is golden.
Acts of the Apostles (1911) The of ice of the Holy Spirit is distinctly specified in the words of Christ: “When He is come, He wil reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment.” John 16:8. It is the Holy Spirit that convicts of sin. If the sinner responds to the quickening influence of the Spirit, he wil be brought to repentance and aroused to the importance of obeying the divine requirements. (AA 51 52)