Are ball games out of bounds?
In light of her statement about the “simple exercise of playing ball,” it strikes me that she may have been decrying the effect that the games had on the young people.
I do not condemn the simple exercise of playing ball; but this, even in its simplicity, may be overdone.
I shrink always from the almost sure result which follows in the wake of these amusements. It leads to an outlay of means that should be expended in bringing the light of truth to souls that are perishing out of Christ. The amusements and expenditures of means for self-pleasing, which lead on step by step to self-glorifying, and the educating in these games for pleasure produce a love and passion for such things that is not favorable to the perfection of Christian character.
The way that they have been conducted at the college does not bear the impress of heaven. It does not strengthen the intellect. It does not refine and purify the character. There are threads leading out through the habits and customs and worldly practices, and the actors become so engrossed and infatuated that they are pronounced in heaven lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God. In the place of the intellect becoming strengthened to do better work as students, to be better qualified as Christians to perform the Christian duties, the exercise in these games is filling their brains with thoughts that distract the mind from their studies. . . .
Is the eye single to the glory of God in these games? I know that this is not so. There is a losing sight of God’s way and His purpose. . . . The Lord God of heaven protests against the burning passion cultivated for supremacy in the games that are so engrossing (The Adventist Home, 499, 500).
Here is another statement that doesn’t seem to rule out games entirely but says that care and watchfulness are needed.
There is great danger that parents and guardians, both by words and actions, will encourage self-esteem and self-importance in the youth. They pursue a course of petting [pampering], gratifying every whim, and thus foster the desire for self-gratification so that the youth receive a mold of character that unfits them for the commonplace duties of practical life. When these students come to our schools, they do not appreciate their privileges; they do not consider that the purpose of education is to qualify them for usefulness in this life and for the future life in the kingdom of God. They act as if the school were a place where they were to perfect themselves in sports, as if this were an important branch of their education, and they come armed and equipped for this kind of training. This is all wrong, from beginning to end. It is not in any way appropriate for this time; it is not qualifying the youth to go forth as missionaries, to endure hardship and privation, and to use their powers for the glory of God.
Amusement that serves as exercise and recreation is not to be discarded; nevertheless, it must be kept strictly within bounds, else it leads to love of amusement for its own sake, and nourishes the desire for selfish gratification. . . .
The training and discipline you undergo in order to be successful in your games is not fitting you to become faithful soldiers of Jesus Christ, to fight His battles and gain spiritual victories. The money expended for garments to make a pleasing show in these match games is so much money that might have been used to advance the cause of God in new places, bringing the word of truth to souls in darkness of error. Oh, that God would give all the true sense of what it means to be a Christian! It is to be Christlike. He lived not to please Himself (Manuscript Releases, 2:218, 219).
I recommend reading the section on recreation in The Adventist Home.
Note: Arthur L. White, at the time secretary of the White Estate, wrote the following in a letter to an inquirer:
I am one of Sister White’s grandsons. Before I was born she gave to my father a few acres of land which was part of her original home place. She said that he was not to sell this, but it was to be the children’s playground and schoolroom. It was just that. We grew up as children playing games and engaging in the various activities about the home and in the garden, all of which helped to make a full and balanced life. In 1902 she gave a certain piece of property to the Sani-tarium Church to be used as the site of a church school. There wasn’t too much area which could serve as a playground, but over in the corner of her pasture was a playground in which games were played by the church school children. These games consisted of baseball and other games in a simple form as recreation but as it would be for recreation for church school students. There was never any admonition from her that this was not right. [This letter, dated November 9, 1959, can be found in the question and answer file named “Did Jesus Play Games” on the Ellen G. White Estate Digital Resource Center Web site.]