I saw a Web site defending the work of Ellen White. There is one thing that is a bit surprising to me. It says, “Ellen White did make mistakes.” How many mistakes did she make, and how can I be sure what part of her work is true and what part is mistaken? She said some things—many things—that seem like mistakes, and I would like to know if they just seem to be mistakes or they really are—-for example, what she said about novels, theater, wedding rings, sports like tennis, etc.
The question you are really asking is, Did Ellen G. White give mistaken instruction for the church—instruction that reflects only her human perceptions rather than the divine will? You offer several examples of things that to some seem like mistakes. I notice that they all have to do with matters of lifestyle.
We are all subject to a very human tendency, which is to defend as right whatever we want to do. When someone comes along and says that what we’re doing isn’t right, we instinctively conclude that he or she is wrong or mistaken. Mrs. White saw this happen many times in her ministry. She wrote,
If the preconceived opinions or particular ideas of some are crossed in being reproved by testimonies, they have a burden at once to make plain their position to discriminate between the testimonies, defining what is Sister White’s human judgment, and what is the word of the Lord. Everything that sustains their cherished ideas is divine, and the testimonies to correct their errors are human—Sister White’s opinions. They make of none effect the counsel of God by their tradition. —Manuscript 16, 1889 ().
On the homepage of the site that you referred to, one of the main links says, “Ellen White Did Make Mistakes.” When you click there, you see a brief essay on the question. Notice what the first paragraph says about the mistakes it is referring to.
Ellen White herself never claimed that it was impossible for her to err when it came to historical details, dates, and other such information. She made it clear that neither she, nor Bible prophets were God’s “pen” but were rather His “penmen.” Some of the chronological discrepancies in the Bible (so often pointed out by Bible critics) are good examples of what she meant (“Ellen White Did Make Mistakes,” http://www.ellen-white.com/EllenWhiteMistakes.html).
So these are the kinds of mistakes the Web site is referring to—things like details of history, dates, etc. On one occasion, Mrs. White mentioned something about forty rooms in the Paradise Valley Sanitarium. One man seized on this to say that it had made him lose all confidence in Mrs. White because he knew for a fact that there were only thirty-eight rooms in the sanitarium. She chided him for putting common matters on the same level as the spiritual (see). Mrs. White claimed no inspiration regarding common matters. But on matters of spiritual instruction for the church, she understood that she was to give the instruction that the Lord had given her, not what was merely her own opinion.
Sometimes conditions change, and with them, the application of the instruction she gave. For instance, at one point in the nineteenth century, Mrs. White came out strongly against Seventh-day Adventists purchasing bicycles. Today, most Seventh-day Adventists have bicycles or had them as children. Was Mrs. White’s counsel a mistake? No. She protested large expenditures of funds for bicycles (which, at the time she wrote, typically cost an amount equal to many months of earnings) with no more purpose than to display one’s “toy” or to compete in races. While some bicycles might still fit in that category, most are of modest cost and provide healthful recreation and transportation. The conditions have changed, and so the application of the counsel has changed. The counsel she gave regarding bicycles might apply just as well to some other extravagant expenditures today.
In regard to the examples you have asked about, you might take a careful look to see if you can discover the principles that drove the specifics of her counsel. Have conditions changed in such a way as to affect how the principles might be applied? For instance, to take just one item that you mentioned, Mrs. White objected to the theater principally because of its moral content. Has the theater (or today, the movies and even television programming) improved to the point where Christians may go and find that they are drawn closer to the Lord as a result? Will the experience better fit them for heaven or for being channels the Holy Spirit can use to win souls to the Savior? Or does the theater tend to revel in the very sins that put our Lord on the cross? Looking at the principles that underlie her counsels, we might well ask, Is the theater where Christians should seek entertainment?
I think that if you will look for the principles that provided the basis for the counsel you have asked about, you will find that the counsel was not mistaken when it was given and that in general the counsel still applies very well. Saying this does not imply that the counsel will be popular, for we all have the tendency I wrote of at the beginning of this message—the tendency to justify what our fallen natures tell us will be interesting, fun, or desirable and is widely practiced by others. But as Christians, we are not called to follow the crowd nor to follow the promptings of our own desires. Jesus said, “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life” (, KJV).