Monthly Archives: November 2019

Do we need Ellen White to interpret the Bible?

During the recent Autumn Council of the General Conference—the annual meeting of the full executive committee with representatives from the entire world field—a statement was voted about the role of Ellen G. White and her writings. This statement will be submitted to the delegates to the General Conference session of next year, with the intention that they, through their adoption of this statement, will reaffirm their conviction regarding the crucial role of Ellen White and her work in the Adventist Church. It has almost become a tradition that the delegates to a GC session adopt such a statement. One might well ask why it is deemed necessary to each time vote such a document about this element of our Adventist beliefs. Is there a fear that confidence in ‘the spirit of prophecy’ is slowly but surely ebbing away? But, if, so, does it really help to once again vote some official statement? Why would we then not also adopt a statement that Adventists must continue to value the seventh-day Sabbath and why is there no vote during the session which appeals to the worldwide membership not to slacken in their expectation of the second coming of the Lord?

Besides the questions whether such a statement is really needed, there is the problem of its content. The full text of the statement may be found on:
https://mk0atodaytmpyu330hj6.kinstacdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/resolution-on-EGW.png.

The paragraph that for me raises a red flag is:
We believe that the writings of Ellen white were inspired by the Holy Spirit and are Christ-centered and Bible-based. Rather than replacing the Bible, they uplift the normative character of Scripture and correct the inaccurate interpretations imposed upon it. They also help us to overcome the human tendency to accept from the Bible what we like and distort and disregard what we do not like.

The first sentence of this paragraph leaves us with the question how the concept of inspiration is to be defined. However, for now I will not pursue this topic. It is, in particular, the second sentence that bothers me. It contains a most serious internal contradiction. On the one hand it states that the Bible is the norm by which all ideas must be tested. So far so good. However, it immediately ads that there is another authoritative source (i.e. the oeuvre of Ellen White) which tells us how we should interpret the Bible. With such a view we seem to ignore the fundamental protestant principle of sola scriptura (the Bible alone) and come dangerously close to the Roman Catholic teaching that only the church is capable of interpreting the Bible correctly, and that only the church can protect the believer against wrong interpretations. The idea that Ellen White has the last word in the interpretation of the Bible puts her work in fact above the Bible. This approach is totally opposed to other statements of the Adventist Church that clearly underline the principle of ‘the Bible alone’. See, for instance, point one of the 28 Fundamental Beliefs. (The Holy Scriptures are the supreme, authoritative, and the infallible revelation of His will. They are the standard of character, the test of experience, the definitive revealer of doctrines . . .). Ellen White herself quite often emphasized that the church should not expect from her that she has the final word about issues of theology and biblical exegesis!

It is my firm conviction that this statement about the role of Ellen White (if, indeed, there must be such a statement) must go back to the desks of those who wrote it. But I would also like to see in the statement (again, if there must be such a statement) that far more attention be paid to the results of the extensive Ellen G. White research of the last few decades. Providing the church members with that information would help them to arrive at a much more balanced view as to who Ellen White was, of what she has meant for the church and what her continuing significance can be.

Tithing: commandment or privilege?

My father died when he was only fifty years old. I was a teenager at the time. My mother was in her early forties. I am not exaggerating when I say that we were very poor. My mother had to live, with her children, on a very minimal social payment that was available for widows and orphans. She became a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church at age sixteen and ever since took her faith very seriously, including the fact that she was expected to give one tenth of her meagre income to the church. I remember how she once told me that she did not always succeed in doing so, which made her feel guilty. The more so, since the pastor of our small church had severely criticized her and had quoted Malachi 3:8-10 to her. She was told there was no excuse not to give a faithful tithe, for God must always come first!

The words of the prophet Malachi have created a lot of feelings of guilt in the minds and hearts of many Adventist believers. For the prophet says that not giving our tithe equals robbing God, which is not without its serious consequences. On the other hand, faithful tithe-givers can count on God’s blessings. They must test God and in so doing will experience that in the end all will be well.

It has always disturbed me when people in our church were put under severe pressure through this text. And this annoyance only increased as I gradually came to realize that our tithe-giving tradition does not really have the kind of solid biblical basis that I had often been told it has. I had to think about this when a few days ago I read an article by my friend Larry Downing (a retired colleague in the USA) on the Adventist Today website. In this piece he discusses all the tithing-texts that we find in the Bible and he concludes that there are many questions surrounding the Old Testament phenomenon of tithing, and that we cannot find a clear commandment for the followers of Christ to give ten percent of their income to their church organization. See: https://atoday.org/an-overview-of-tithe-texts-in-the-english-bible/

Do I write this short piece because I want to tell my fellow -believers that giving tithes is unimportant? Certainly not. I want to see my church prosper, giving a clear sound to world around us. And to do so, the church will continue to need the right people but also money. I am personally very grateful that during more than forty years tithe-giving church members provided for my salary and that presently I receive a monthly pension that is also financed from tithe funds. And I myself belong to the circa sixty percent of church members who give a regular tithe. [The church would no longer have any financial worries if all members were to give tithes! Alas, that is a rather utopian thought.]

Giving tithes remains a good idea, even though the New Testament is almost completely silent about it. And there is no hint as to whether one should take the tithe from one’s gross or net income. And whether all the money should be forwarded to a central point (i.e. to the treasury in the conference office). However, the Bible—and certainly also the New Testament—is quite clear that we must be generous in our giving (see e.g. 2 Corinthians 9:7) and the apostle Paul emphasizes the principle of systematic giving (e.g. 1 Corinthians 16:2).

It was a good thing that the members of the church agreed in the past on a system of systematic support for the gospel work. After first having worked with a different system (“systematic benevolence”), from about 1870 onwards the tithing system was promoted.

Considering that in Old Testament times the believers gave ten percent of their income (or more) to God’s cause, should not we—who gratefully look back on the incomparable sacrifice of Jesus Christ—practice a giving pattern that is, at least, at the same level? If we give our tithes, it is not because we have been pressured by a text from Malachi, but because our love for Christ prompts us to give to a cause that is dear to us—and because giving to the church is in actual fact a sacrifice of love that we bring to God.

Let us keep our system of tithe giving in high esteem. It is a good basis. No doubt there are those among us who are able to give more than ten percent (and that is what some do). However, if we are (perhaps temporarily) unable to reach this ten percent norm, we can rest assured that God is happy with what we can give. For in the end it is not the size of our gift, but our motivation that is important for God (see Mark 12:41-44.

Perhaps it is time to rethink our approach to tithing and consider it no longer as a duty but as a privilege.