Built Upon the Rock
By E.H. “Jack” Sequeira

Chapter 15:  The Gift of Prophecy

Fundamental Belief #18 One of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is prophecy.  This gift is an identifying mark of the remnant church and was manifested in the ministry of Ellen G. White.  As the Lord’s messenger, her writings are a continuing and authoritative source of truth which provide for the church comfort, guidance, instruction, and correction.  They also make clear that the Bible is the standard by which all teaching and experience must be tested.
[Joel 2:28-29; Acts 2:14-21; Hebrews 1:1-3; Revelation 12:17; 19:10]

Last chapter we looked at spiritual gifts in a general way and at the importance of these gifts in maturing the church for ministry.  Now we focus on prophecy, a gift that has helped make the church what it is today.  Seventh-day Adventists generally believe that the gift of prophecy was given to Ellen G. White, who played a major part in the development of the denomination.

Critics from outside the church, and more recently from within, have attacked this unique Adventist belief.  The objections are twofold.  First, critics have argued that the prophetic gift ceased with John the Revelator, that the completion of the New Testament ended the need for the gift of prophecy.  But, in recent years, Christians of several faiths, including Pentecostals, have come to believe that the prophetic gift continues to the end of time.  So this early objection to the prophetic gift of Ellen White has largely been abandoned.

The second, and more serious, argument brought against the fundamental belief is that Adventists place Ellen G. White’s writings on par with the Word of God.  In other words, some Adventist doctrines are said to be based on her writings rather than on the Bible and the Bible alone.

In theory, and according to the fundamental belief quoted above, this accusation is untrue.  But, in practice, some Adventists do make Ellen G. White’s writings the ultimate measuring stick of truth.  This has given the church a bad name and the stigma of being called a cult.  While she was alive, Ellen White herself condemned such uses of her writings and refused and forbade church members to use her writings to settle theological arguments, such as the identity of the “daily” of Daniel 8 or whether 144,000 was a literal or symbolic number.  She wrote:

Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 5, Page 708
Believers are not to rest on suppositions and ill-defined ideas of what constitutes truth.  Their faith must be firmly founded upon the Word of God so that when testing times shall come and they are brought before councils to answer for their faith they may be able to give a reason for the hope that is in them.

Not far from a church I once pastored stands a theological seminar which teaches a class on cults.  One day a student handed me a recording of a class study that dealt with Seventh-day Adventists.  According to the professor who taught this class, Seventh-day Adventists are a cult, because he said they base their teachings on Ellen G. White rather than on the Word of God.  This is not an uncommon accusation, one for which Adventists themselves are partly to blame, because of the way many have misused her writings.

I once had the opportunity to discuss this question with the late Walter Martin, author of The Kingdom of the Cults.  He told me, “I am convinced that if Ellen G. White were to rise from the dead today, she would be horrified at the way your church is using her.”  He went on to give several examples to prove his position and, sad to say, I couldn’t deny them.

Christendom applies certain standards, or fundamental rules, when evaluating whether a denomination is part of orthodox Christianity or a cult.  One of these standards holds that any church that uses extra-biblical material to support any of its doctrines is a cult, and many Christians feel that Seventh-day Adventists do this in support of at least some of their unique doctrines.  All doctrines must be based on and defended from the Bible, and the Bible alone.  All 28 fundamental beliefs must be explained in context of the everlasting gospel, which is the main purpose of this book.

Ellen G. White herself emphasized that the church’s beliefs need to be supported from the Bible alone.  She wrote:

Evangelism, Page 256
The testimonies of Sister White should not be carried to the front.  God’s Word is the unerring standard.  The Testimonies are not to take the place of the Word....  Let all prove their positions from the Scriptures and substantiate every point they claim as truth from the revealed Word of God.
Gospel Workers, Page 249
The Bible is our rule of faith and doctrine.
Prophets and Kings, Page 626
The words of the Bible, and the Bible only, should be heard from the pulpit.
The Great Controversy, Page 595
But God will have a people upon the earth to maintain the Bible, and the Bible only, as the standard of all doctrine and the basis of all reforms.

The Use of the Spirit of Prophecy

How, then, are Seventh-day Adventists to understand and apply the prophetic gift?  What does the Bible teach?  According to the apostle Paul, the gift of prophecy is second in importance among the spiritual gifts, following the gift of apostleship:

1 Corinthians 12:28 [Emphasis Added]
And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues.

Paul also writes:

1 Thessalonians 5:20-21
Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good....

Notice that all things must be tested by the Word of God:

Isaiah 8:20
Consult God’s instruction and the testimony of warning [the Bible].  If anyone does not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn.

Paul clearly is suggesting that the prophetic gift was not to end with John.  In fact, Jesus Himself predicted that, in the last days, prior to His Second Advent, there would arise false prophets:

Matthew 24:11, 14
...And many false prophets will appear and deceive many people.  ...And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

That Jesus warned His disciples about false prophets in the last days indicates that there would also be true prophets, or He would have ruled out prophets altogether.  In fact, Joel predicted the coming of prophets, in the Old Testament:

Joel 2:28-29 [Emphasis Added]
“And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.  Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.  Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.”

While the apostle Peter did apply the above text to the Pentecost experience (see Acts 2:14-21), what happened at Pentecost was only a partial fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy.  In the verses that follow, the prophet clearly applies his prophecy primarily to the days just prior to the Second Advent:

Joel 2:30-32a
I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and billows of smoke.  The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.  And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved....

Clearly, these are the signs predicted elsewhere in Scripture for the Second Coming of Christ:

Matthew 24:29
“Immediately after the distress of those days ‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’”
Revelation 6:12
I watched as he opened the sixth seal.  There was a great earthquake.  The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red....

As one reads through the Bible, it becomes clear that Scripture never declares, or even implies, that the prophetic gift is to cease with the death of the apostle John.

But we must make a distinction here between the prophetic gift as manifested by the prophets of the Bible and the prophetic gift in the Christian church since John the Revelator.  While the prophetic messages of Bible times were often added to the canon of Scripture, this ceased with the passing of those who had known Jesus personally.  Nothing is to be added to Scripture beyond the book of Revelation:

Revelation 22:18
I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll:  If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll.

All knowledge necessary for salvation and the doctrines of the church are revealed in Old and New Testament Scriptures.  Christ is indeed God’s final word to mankind:

Hebrews 1:1-2
In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.

But this does nothing to undermine the legitimacy of inspiration and importance of the prophetic gift as manifested in the Christian church since New Testament times.  The admonition is still true today:

2 Chronicles 20:20b
“Have faith in the Lord your God and you will be upheld; have faith in his prophets and you will be successful.”

But if the writings of modern-day prophets are not to be placed in the same level as the Bible, does this mean that Ellen White’s writings are “less inspired” than those of Bible writers?  The answer is a definite No.  The issue is not one of inspiration, but of function.  What, then, is the place, function, and importance of the prophetic gift today?

I will begin with the negative.  Clearly, God has not given the prophetic gift to take the place of personal Bible study.  Ellen G. White herself emphasized this point, writing that:

The Colporteur Evangelist, Page 37
Little heed is given to the Bible, and the Lord has given a lesser light to lead men and women to the greater light.

She did not say that God has given the lesser light to replace the greater light, but to lead to it.  Yet, some Adventists make her writings the final word in matters of doctrine.

We must recognize that not all of Ellen White’s writings are intended as interpretation of Scripture, but as spiritual application of the Word of God.  So it stands to reason that, in studying the Bible, we cannot always use the writings of Ellen G. White to exegete, or interpret, specific texts.  To interpret a passage is to draw out the meaning of the text as intended by the Bible writer for the audience of that day.  To spiritualize a passage, however, is to give a spiritual application of a text, an application in harmony with overall Scripture, but not specific to the text in question.

Take the parable of the prodigal son.  This parable can be spiritualized as a wonderful illustration of God’s unconditional love towards sinners, and Ellen G. White does this very thing.  Yet, Jesus’ main purpose in sharing the parable was to contrast God’s attitude towards sinners with that of the scribes and Pharisees.  Jesus told the parable in response to their murmuring:

Luke 15:2
But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man [Jesus] welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

The spirit manifested by the older brother toward his sibling clearly illustrates the self-righteous, unforgiving attitude of the scribes and Pharisees toward sinners.  Thus, as leaders of God’s people, they were misrepresenting God Himself.

According to the apostle Paul, the purpose, place, and function of the prophetic gift is to edify, exhort, and comfort the church — in other words, to build it up spiritually:

1 Corinthians 14:3
But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort.

The prophetic gift is given specifically to the believers themselves:

1 Corinthians 14:22
Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers; prophecy, however, is not for unbelievers but for believers.

No wonder, then, that an examination of Ellen White’s writings reveals that the majority of what she says deals with Christian living and church organization.  God’s purpose, through her, was to prepare the Advent movement to restore the pure and full gospel — the Three Angels’ Messages of Revelation 14.

Revelation 10:11 [see this in context]
Then I was told, “You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, languages and kings.”

In fulfilling this purpose, the little group raised up after the Great Disappointment of 1844 would fulfill the prophecy of Matthew 24:14, and the gospel of the kingdom would be preached in all the world, for a witness in the end times:

Matthew 24:14
And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

But many Adventists fail to focus on this basic function of the prophetic gift and misuse her writings by placing them on par with the Bible.  By misunderstand the purpose of her writings, many have portrayed Ellen White as promoting salvation by works of the law, by taking her writings on Christian living and behavior and applying them to the gospel.  In doing so, they have perverted the gospel from “good news” to “good advice,” using her writings as a hammer of reform.  No wonder so many turn their backs on the writings of the Spirit of Prophecy and leave the church in discouragement.

We must never confuse the incredibly good news of the everlasting gospel with its application, or fruit, in the lives of believers.  The gospel consists only of the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ — period.  Nothing must be added to this.  This good news applies to and embraces the entire human race.  But its application or fruits apply only to the believers who are abiding in Christ.  Failure to distinguish between the gospel, on the one hand, and its fruits has produced confused legalism, by equating the doctrines of the church with the gospel.  This seems particularly true of those independent ministries who proclaim “historic Adventism.”

As can happen with any good thing, Ellen White’s prophetic gift has been misused.  That misuse expresses itself by contradicting in practice the first fundamental belief — that “the Bible and the Bible alone is the standard of all our doctrines and the basis of all reform.”  This can occur in three ways:

  1. By using the Spirit of Prophecy, instead of God’s Word, to prove or defend a doctrinal truth.  This misuse makes the Spirit of Prophecy rather than the Bible, the yardstick of truth.  Note that she herself says:

    Evangelism, Page 256
    The testimonies of Sister White should not be carried to the front.  God’s Word is the unerring standard.  The Testimonies are not to take the place of the Word....  Let all prove their positions from the Scriptures and substantiate every point they claim as truth from the revealed Word of God.
  2. By refusing to accept a truth that is taught in Scripture unless it can also be proven from the Spirit of Prophecy.  This makes Ellen G. White the ultimate authority in doctrinal matters.  She herself says:

    Gospel Workers, 1915 ed., Page 249
    The Bible is our rule of faith and doctrine.
  3. By making the Spirit of Prophecy, rather than God’s Word, the main emphasis of proclamation and witnessing.  In doing this, Ellen G. White becomes a substitute for the Bible.  She herself gives the following council on this point:

    Prophets and Kings, Page 626
    The words of the Bible, and the Bible only, should be heard from the pulpit.
    Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 5, Page 708
    Their [believers’] faith must be firmly grounded upon the Word of God.

Because many Adventists have misused the writings of Ellen G. White, few realize that she clearly understood and articulated the good news of the gospel message and the glorious truth of justification by faith alone.  Two years after the historical 1888 General Conference session held in Minneapolis, Minnesota (where the most precious message of righteousness by faith was clearly presented by E.J. Wagoner and A.T. Jones), a special ministerial institute was held in Battle Creek, Michigan, to clarify in the minds of ministers matters pertaining to the truth of righteousness by faith and how to promote it.  Ellen White herself was keynote speaker at that conference, and clarified the main thrust of her message with these words:

Faith and Works, Page 18 [Emphasis Added]
The danger has been presented to me again and again of entertaining, as a people, false ideas of justification by faith.  I have been shown for years that Satan would work in a special manner to confuse the mind on this point.  The law of God has been largely dwelt upon and has been presented to congregations almost as destitute of the knowledge of Jesus Christ and His relation to the law as was the offering of Cain.  I have been shown that many have been kept from the faith because of mixed, confused ideas of salvation, because ministers have worked in a wrong manner to reach hearts.  The point that has been urged upon my mind for years is the imputed righteousness of Christ.  I have wondered that this matter was not made the subject of discourses in our churches throughout the land, when the matter has been so constantly urged upon me, and I have made it the subject of nearly every discourse and talk that I have given to the people.

Because a large number of church members today, especially in the North American Division, have been bombarded with out-of-context do’s and don’ts from the Spirit of Prophecy, they have an unbalanced view of Ellen G. White’s understanding of salvation, and turn away from reading her writings.

Ellen G. White clearly understood and upheld the Reformation’s view on salvation — that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, because of Christ alone.  To demonstrate this, let us read several statements from the Spirit of Prophecy that express her clear understanding of salvation by grace alone and the truth of righteousness by faith.  This is the foundation of Ellen White’s Christian experience:

Sons and Daughters of God, Page 259
As Christ’s ambassadors, they [God’s people] are to search the Scriptures, to seek the truths that have been hidden beneath the rubbish of error.  And every ray of light revealed is to be communicated to others.  One interest will prevail, one subject will swallow up every other — Christ our righteousness.
Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 6, Page 426
The sweetest melodies that come from God through human lips are justification by faith, and the righteousness of Christ.
Evangelism, Page 186
When the free gift of Christ’s righteousness is not presented, the discourses are dry and spiritless; the sheep and lambs are not fed.
Selected Messages, Book 1, Page 384
The gift of Christ to this guilty world must be largely dwelt upon in every discourse.
Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 6, Page 19
The message of Christ’s righteousness is to sound from one end of the earth to the other to prepare the way of the Lord.  This is the glory of God, which closes the work of the Third Angel.
Selected Messages, Book 1, Page 360
There is not one in one hundred who understands for himself the Bible truth on this subject [justification by faith] that is so necessary to our present and eternal welfare....  The doctrine of justification by faith has been lost sight of by many who have professed to believe the Third Angel’s Message.
Gospel Workers, 1915 ed., Page 161
The thought that the righteousness of Christ is imputed to us... is a precious thought.  The enemy of God and man is not willing that this truth should be clearly presented; for he knows that, if the people perceive it fully, his power will be broken.
Selected Messages, Book 1, Page 372
Justification by faith...is the Third Angel’s Message.
Selected Messages, Book 1, Page 363
We must center our hopes of heaven upon Christ alone.
Prophets and Kings, Page 725
Clad in the armor of Christ’s righteousness, the church is to enter upon her final conflict.
Selected Messages, Book 1, Page 328
Do not feed upon the husk of self-righteousness, but go to the Lord.  He has the best robe to put upon you....  You must have something solid for the foundation of your faith....  You are to come depending upon the Sun of Righteousness....  We should be disgusted with our own righteousness.
Selected Messages, Book 1, Page 359
Justification by faith is a message from God; it bears the divine credentials, for its fruit is unto holiness.
Selected Messages, Book 1, Page 360
When we are clothed with the righteousness of Christ, we shall have no relish for sin.
Selected Messages, Book 1, Pages 356-357
Christ is the source of all hope and salvation....  The tidings that Christ is our righteousness has brought relief to many, many souls, and God says to His people, “Go Forward.”
Selected Messages, Book 1, Page 353
There are conscientious souls that trust partly to God and partly to themselves.  They... depend upon watchfulness... and the performance of certain duties for acceptance....  There are no victories in this kind of faith....  We can do nothing, absolutely nothing, to commend ourselves to divine favor.
Selected Messages, Book 1, Page 354
God will accept everyone that comes to Him trusting wholly in the merits of a crucified Savior....  Duty becomes a delight....  This is walking in the light as Christ is in the light.
Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 5, Page 744
By dwelling upon the love of God and our Savior, by contemplating the perfection of the divine character and claiming the righteousness of Christ as ours by faith, we are to be transformed into the same image.
Selected Messages, Book 1, Pages 322-323
At the cross, mercy and truth met together; righteousness and peace kissed each other.
Steps to Christ, Page 64
The closer you come to Jesus, the more faulty you will appear in your own eyes.
Testimonies to Ministers, Page 456
What is justification by faith?  It is the work of God in laying the glory of man in the dust.
Review and Herald, 21 August 1894
What is righteousness?  It is the satisfaction that Christ gave the divine law in our behalf.
Sons and Daughters of God, Page 240
The active obedience of Christ clothes the believing sinner with the righteousness that meets the demands of the law.
The Faith I Live By, Page 115
The part man has to act in the salvation of the soul is to believe on Jesus Christ as a perfect Redeemer.
Patriarchs and Prophets, Page 372
Instead of going about to establish our own righteousness, we accept the righteousness of Christ.
Sons and Daughters of God, Page 240
Through the imputed righteousness of Christ, the sinner may feel that he is pardoned, and may know that the law no more condemns him....  By faith he lays hold of the righteousness of Christ....  He looks to the perfect obedience of Christ.
Steps to Christ, Page 65
No deep-seated love for Jesus can dwell in the heart that does not realize its own sinfulness.
The Sanctified Life, Page 8
By beholding Him, we become changed into His divine likeness and, when this work is wrought in us, we shall claim no righteousness of our own.
The Desire of Ages, Page 300
The proud heart strives to earn salvation, but both our title to heaven and our fitness for it are found in the righteousness of Christ.
Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, Vol. 4, Page 1,141
Whatever virtue humanity possesses, it exists only in Jesus Christ.
Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 5, Page 48
Are you in Christ?  Not if you do not acknowledge yourselves erring, helpless, condemned sinners.
Selected Messages, Book 1, Page 364
When we seek to gain heaven through the merits of Christ, the soul makes progress.
Selected Messages, Book 2, Pages 32-33
We are not to be anxious about what Christ and God think of us, but only what He thinks of Christ our Substitute and Surety.
Patriarchs and Prophets, Page 353
The incense, ascending with the prayers of Israel, represents the merits and intercession of Christ, His perfect righteousness, which through faith is imputed to His people, and which alone can make the worship of sinful beings acceptable to God.
The Youth’s Instructor, 31 May 1900
But those whose life is hid with Christ in God can say, “I believe in Him who was condemned at Pilate’s bar, and given up to the priests and rulers to be crucified.  Look not upon me, a sinner, but look upon my Advocate.  There is nothing in me worthy of the love He manifested for me; but He gave His life for me.  Behold me in Jesus.  He became sin for me, that I might be made the righteousness of God in Him.”
Selected Messages, Book 1, Page 331
It is impossible for man to save himself.  He may deceive himself in regard to this matter, but he cannot save himself.  Christ’s righteousness alone can avail for his salvation, and this is the gift of God.  This is the wedding garment in which you may appear as a welcome guest at the marriage supper of the Lamb.
Selected Messages, Book 1, Page 332
No man can look within himself and find anything in his character that will recommend him to God, or make his acceptance sure.
Selected Messages, Book 1, Page 333
We are to be found in Him not having our own righteousness, but the righteousness which is in Christ.
Selected Messages, Book 1, Page 343
God always demanded good works, the law demands it, but because man placed himself in sin where his good works were valueless, Jesus’ righteousness alone can avail.  Christ is able to save to the uttermost because He ever liveth to make intercession for us.  All that man can possibly do toward his own salvation is to accept the invitation.
Selected Messages, Book 1, Page 367
Righteousness is obedience to the law.  The law demands righteousness, and this the sinner owes to the law, but he is incapable of rendering it.  The only way in which he can attain to righteousness is through faith.  By faith he can bring to God the merits of Christ, and the Lord places the obedience of His Son to the sinner’s account.
Selected Messages, Book 1, Page 395
The believer is not called upon to make his peace with God; he never has nor ever can do this.  He is to accept Christ as his peace.
Selected Messages, Book 1, Page 353
Some seem to feel that they must be on probation and must prove to the Lord that they are reformed, before they can claim His blessing.  But these dear souls may claim the blessing even now.
Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 5, Page 81
All who assume the ornaments of the Sanctuary, but are not clothed with Christ’s righteousness, will appear in the shame of their own nakedness....  When multitudes of false brethren are distinguished from the true, then the hidden ones will be revealed.
The Desire of Ages, Page 490
Henceforward Christ’s followers were to look upon Satan as a conquered foe.  Upon the Cross, Jesus was to gain the victory for them; that victory He desired them to accept as their own.
Spiritual Gifts, Vol. 3, Page 136
That faith which will live through the Time of Trouble must be in daily exercise now.
The Desire of Ages, Page 660
His [Christ’s] sacrifice is the center of our hope.  Upon this we must fix our faith.
Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 4, Page 212
Living faith in the merits of a crucified Redeemer will carry them [God’s people] through the fiery furnace of affliction and trial.
Selected Messages, Book 1, Page 372
Some of our brethren have expressed fears that we shall dwell too much upon the subject of righteousness by faith....  There is no danger in presenting this doctrine as it is set forth in the Scriptures.
The Desire of Ages, Page 175
There are thousands today who... depend on their obedience to the law of God to commend them to His favor....  They are bidden to look to Jesus, and believe that He saves them solely through His grace.
The Desire of Ages, Page 113
And the word that was spoken to Jesus at the Jordan, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased,” embraces humanity.  God spoke to Jesus as our representative.  With all our sins and weaknesses, we are not cast aside as worthless.  “He hath made us accepted in the Beloved” (Ephesians 1:6).  The glory that rests upon Christ is a pledge of the love of God for us.

To close this chapter on the gift of prophecy, let us read a letter Ellen White penned to a discouraged sister:

Testimonies to Ministers, Pages 516, 518, 519
The Lord has given me a message for you, and not for you only, but also for other faithful souls who are troubled by doubts and fears regarding their acceptance by the Lord Jesus Christ.  His word to you is, ‘Fear not:  for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by name; thou are mine.’  You desire to please the Lord, and you can do this by believing His promises.  He is waiting to take you into a harbor of gracious experience, and He bids you, ‘Be still, and know that I am God.’  You have had a time of unrest; but Jesus says to you, ‘Come unto me... and I will give you rest.’  The joy of Christ in the soul is worth everything.  ‘Then are they glad,’ because they are privileged to rest in the arms of everlasting love....  The feeling of guiltiness must be laid at the foot of the cross....  Comfort your soul with the promises of God....  When [the feelings and emotions] fluctuate between hope and fear, the heart of Christ is hurt; for He has given them unmistakable evidence of His love....  He wants them to do the work He has given them; then their hearts will become in His hands as sacred harps, every chord of which will send forth praise and thanksgiving.
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