In our series on the Great Controversy, we’re going to be asking some of the tough questions when it comes to Ellen White, her inspiration, and her relationship to the Bible and to history.
I want to say up front that I do appreciate the prophetic ministry of Ellen White and that I believe in the gift that the Holy Spirit gave her. However, I want to consider some of the following quotes:
I do not ask you to take my words. Lay Sister White to one side. Do not quote my words again as long as you live until you can obey the Bible. - Ellen White, Selected Messages 3, 33.
In public labor do not make prominent, and quote that which Sister White has written, as authority to sustain your positions. To do this will not increase faith in the testimonies. Bring your evidences, clear and plain, from the Word of God. A "Thus saith the Lord" is the strongest testimony you can possibly present to the people. Let none be educated to look to Sister White, but to the mighty God, who gives instruction to Sister White. - Ellen White, Selected Messages 3, 30-31.
The Great Controversy is a beautiful book about the conflict between Christ and Satan. But it can be a problematic book at times, and let me tell you why: The things she says here are not all explicitly in the Bible, especially when it comes to heavenly scenes and the narrative of Lucifer's fall from heaven.
For those of us who believe in Ellen White's prophetic gift, this is not a problem at all. It is not the claims she is making that are problematic, but rather the way that we have often used and presented this book that can be a problem.
For example, I’ve heard it said before in an evangelistic meeting: "If it isn’t in the Bible it isn’t for me." And then the speaker directly launched into a talk about Lucifer and the specifics of his role and life in heaven.
I believe in this story, by the way! But it just isn’t in the Bible. Just like it isn’t in the Bible that Lucifer was the director of the heavenly choir. Or like it isn’t in the Bible that heaven is located behind the constellation Orion.
And while I don’t fault any Seventh-day Adventist for believing in these things--Ellen White did write about them after all--we have to be careful with how we present things to new believers, especially when it comes to things that are not explicitly in the Bible.
If we truly want to be a Sola Scriptura (Bible Only) church, then we must not be lazy in our beliefs. If Ellen White said it and it is important, we can and should find it in the Bible.
As for the Great Controversy theme--especially when it comes to the origin of sin, the fall of Lucifer, and the behind-the-scenes war between Christ and Satan that is happening, often unbeknownst to us, over our souls--what I want to do now is to show how this really is a Biblical belief. And even if there are some details that Ellen White presents that are not found in the Bible, this is a concept that we can prove from the Bible.
Ezekiel 28 and Isaiah 14 are widely regarded by the Christian world to be descriptive chapters of Lucifer and his fall from grace. Of course, these scenes are tucked away in actual prophecies regarding actual, earthly kingdoms, but it's not hard to tell when things switch over from the earthly realm to the angelic. For example, in Ezekiel 28, the actual King of Tyre to the metaphorical "King of Tyre" (Lucifer), who was both present in the Garden of Eden and anointed as a Guardian Cherub. And in Isaiah 14, we find a similar shift from the literal King of Babylon to Lucifer (Day Star, etc.) who fell from heaven because he wanted to be like the Most High.
In Psalm 82, we find a poetic backstory that shows God talking to "the gods." When mankind fell in Genesis 3, we find that mankind, who were supposed to be the stewards and rulers of the planet earth, gave that responsibility away to Satan (through the Serpent) over a bite of fruit, much like Esau gave away his birthright to Jacob over a bowl of lentils. 2 Corinthians 4:4 describes Satan as "the God of this world." We find in Revelation 12:9 that when he was cast down to Earth, his angels were cast down with him (one third of the angels of heaven, according to Revelation 12:4). Ellen White gives us some further insight in the Great Controversy on page 513:
Evil spirits, in the beginning created sinless, were equal in nature, power, and glory with the holy beings that are now God's messengers. But fallen through sin, they are leagued together for the dishonor of God and the destruction of men. United with Satan in his rebellion, and with him cast out from heaven, they have, through all succeeding ages, co-operated with him in his warfare against the divine authority. We are told in Scripture of their confederacy and government, of their various orders, of their intelligence and subtlety, and of their malicious designs against the peace and happiness of men.
So Satan and his evil angel cronies are likely who God is speaking to in this psalm. We find that he is pleading with them to do justice, even though they continue to refuse to do so. He says "you are gods . . . nevertheless like men you shall die" (Psalm 82:6-7), likely in reference to the final judgment and those who oppose God being thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:10). A final, Messianic, appeal is made at the end:
Arise, O God, judge the earth; for you shall inherit the nations.
Job 1:6-12 pulls the curtain back even more by showing us the relationship between Satan and God and their battle over the soul of one man, Job. If this battle is going on over one man, is it not the case that God fights over all of his children, "not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9). This also clues us into the entitlement of Satan and his role as "God of this world." The phrase used here by Satan "from going to and fro on the earth and from walking up and down on it" (Job 1:7) indicates that he believes to be sovereign over his territory. He is claiming dominion over his kingdom and reporting on those who live within it. But God is not willing to allow Satan to have his way, and in the end Job gives glory to God instead of cursing him like Satan wants him to. It begs us to ask ourselves: How will we respond to similar tests in life?
Rev 12:7-17 gives us a timeline about the war in heaven. Here is an interesting entry from our Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, regarding this war:
War in heaven. John now presents briefly the history of the great controversy between Satan and Christ in heaven, from its origin to the time of Christ’s victory at the cross (Rev. 12:7-9; cf. Col. 2:14, 15), the final casting out of Satan at that time to this earth (Rev. 12:10-12) . . . -Francis D. Nichol, ed., SDA Bible Commentary vol. 7.
So we find that Ellen White describes a war that begin at the fall of Lucifer, but doesn't end there. It spans in heaven until the time Jesus dies on the cross and takes his place as commander of the Lord's army (Michael) to expel Lucifer finally from heaven (up until this time he must have had some sort of access, as the "God of this earth."). He is so infuriated that he takes the war to earth:
Then the dragon became furious with the woman and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus. (Revelation 12:17)
Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short! (Revelation 12:12)
So, from the beginning of the controversy in heaven (Lucifer's rebellion and fall) to the time we find ourselves in now (the Dragon's war against God's true church) to the second coming (the saving of the faithful and the destruction of sin), we find that the Bible has got the Great Controversy theme covered. This is not something we get only from Ellen White. While she may give us some details from her visions that the Bible leaves out, you can find the story in its fullness straight from scripture. And that's the way it ultimately should be, isn't it?
- Pastor Zachary Payne