Post 26, Top Ten Reasons for Gratitude in Adventism in 2011

Back in the 1980s, the Biblical Research Institute of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists was commissioned to undertake a major study of the ordination of women in Scripture and history. The Institute asked me to write a paper on the experience of Australian non-Adventist churches regarding this issue. Entitled “The Ordination of Women in Australia: An ‘enduring problem’ in historical perspective,” the paper was presented to the Institute; it was also adapted for presentation at the tenth joint annual conference of the Australian and New Zealand Society for Theological Studies and the Australian and New Zealand Association of Theological Schools (1987).

That experience galvanised my interest in the topic of women’s role within Adventism. Earlier, that interest was nurtured by an MLitt thesis and a chapter for the book edited by Dr Noel Clapham, “Founding Mothers: Women and the Adventist Work in the South Pacific Division,” published as Seventh-day Adventists in the South Pacific Division (Signs, 1985). The thesis, presented to the University of New England in 1984, interpreted Ellen White’s concepts of women and their role in the church while she ministered in Australia and New Zealand, 1891-1900; the chapter was re-published in Adventist Heritage: A Journal of Adventist History (1986). Aspects of my research were also summarized as “The Ordination of Deaconesses,” Adventist Review, 16 January 1986; “Adventists and the Ordination of Women” Record, 29 October 1988; and “The Adventist Pastor and the Ordination of Women,” Ministry, April 1989. An earlier blog on this website (posted November 4) indicates that my interest in this topic was alive and well when I presented a short history of the subject in 2010. Sometime I must write a blog about the experience of Women in Ministry, Incorporated, the volunteer entity that for almost a decade raised funds to help create a more level playing field for women with demonstrated spiritual gifts.

The two paragraphs above indicate why I am excited with “The vote by the NAD [North American Division] to allow commissioned ministers to become conference presidents.” While that may be only a small step forward, in the context of Adventist history over the past three decades, it is significant.

I began thinking about the content of this blog when I read Bonnie Dwyer’s 16 November 2011 letter to the Spectrum community, sharing her “Top Ten Reasons for Gratitude in Adventism in 2011.” Bonnie is one of the most literate, articulate and dedicated women in the Adventist church. Here, verbatim, is her list.

10. Vision of President Ted N.C. Wilson to evangelize the cities utilizing a comprehensive approach

9. Increased enrolment at Adventist colleges in North America

8. Success of Adventist hospitals in giving us an identity based in healing and health

7. Adventist employees who daily continue to do their best to make a difference

6. Sabbath School

5. The hope and en joy expressed in Adventist worship music

4. Advocacy of Adventist Peace Fellowship for the traditional non-combatant position of SDAs in time of war

3. Work by the Adventist Alumni Foundation to improve Adventist education

2. The vote by the NAD to allow commissioned ministers to become conference presidents

And my number one reason for gratitude and hope:

1.You. As a member of the Adventist Forum you have kept alive the mission of community through conversation and independent journalism that Spectrum pursues on a daily basis.

Ten cogent reasons that impel us to break forth in thanksgiving! We could, of course, fruitfully explore each one of them, in depth. Oh yes, I admit the progress in understanding and implementing women’s roles in the church has been slow, in view of the obvious fact that when God pours out spiritual gifts upon His people, they are not gender specific. We have been hesitant to recognise many of the valuable insights that research has unearthed in recent decades. But the trend lines are unmistakable.

I don’t want to reduce Bonnie Dwyer’s list, but I do want to extend it. The editors of the Ellen White Project have asked me to read the completed manuscript, on the assumption that another pair of eyes (or two of the same) may spot  a historical problem here or there. I began reading this morning. Already I have a dilemma. The manuscript is scintillating to the point I don’t know how I’ll be able to sleep until I finish it.

Just an eleventh reason to rejoice.

 Arthur Patrick, 24 November 2012

Post 25, Moore is in Oz: Here is his light on an Adventist trouble


A. Leroy Moore Questions on Doctrine Revisited! Keys to the Doctrine of the Atonement and Experience of At-one-ment.  Ithaca, Michigan, AB Publishing, 2005, 288 pages.

Irish folk may speak obliquely of “the troubles” long blighting the Potato Isle. Some Adventist troubles are so painful the church avoids frank analysis of them in its official magazines and journals, thereby making publications like Adventist Today and Spectrum essential.

Perennial controversy surrounds the 720-page volume Seventh-day Adventists Answer Questions on Doctrine (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald, 1957). Historian George Knight identifies this conflict as “one of the thorniest problems in Adventism,” a “casualty” that “has hurt the Seventh-day Adventist Church more dearly than most realize.”1 After almost half a century, many Adventists refer to this particular “trouble” in ways that indicate a high level of pain still surrounds it. While some interpret the events robustly, as a genuine and largely successful attempt to explain Adventism to an Evangelical wing of Christianity, stentorian voices still declaim against church leaders of the era, often in language borrowed from M.L.  Andreasen (1876-1962) and his trenchant Letters to the Churches. Thus General Conference president Reuben Figuhr and some of his closest associates continue to be charged with administrative errors and doctrinal “apostasy,”  “tampering” with or “downgrading” Ellen White’s writings, and reprehensible “conspiracy.”

Thankfully, A. Leroy Moore has distilled fifty years of his engagement with the issues in three books, most recently Questions on Doctrine Revisited! Keys to the Doctrine of the Atonement and Experience of At-one-ment. Moore’s analyses and proposals deserve close attention due to their potential to kick-start a fresh conversation about the conflict relating to Questions on Doctrine (QOD).

Revisited is in part spiritual autobiography. Born in 1932, by 1947 Moore was praying his way through The Desire of Ages as an enquiring teenager with an unusual penchant for heavy reading that would prepare his mind to engage with the Adventist-Evangelical discussion of the 1950s. Moore’s parents gave him the first name of LeRoy Edwin Froom (1890-1974) with adjusted spelling. Leroy Moore now presents Froom’s responsibility for the QOD conflict as perhaps greater than that of Figuhr, R.A. Anderson or any other Adventist leader (Chapter 24). As pastor, researcher and author Moore has struggled long with the issues, incubating his latest book for eleven years, anticipating its publication would be (like his Adventism in Conflict, 1995) from a denominational press. Suddenly, within weeks of the 2005 General Conference session, the book was hurried off an independent press to be available at the quinquennial event.

The processes that hone a book at Pacific Press or Review and Herald would have helped Moore’s revisitation, but his work must not be given less attention because AB did the publishing and was paid with borrowed money. Obvious mistakes in Moore’s book are within reasonable limits. The volume does lack both a bibliography and an index. However, commendable strengths are apparent: clear language that makes diligent effort to avoid semantic conflict; aversion to conspiracy theories; advocacy for placing “the best possible construction” on the motives of others; research and reflection informed by a lifetime of interaction with the doctrinal problems; helpful reference to little known data and studies by others.

Moore’s insights as a pastor may be his greatest single strength. QOD was the attempt of Adventist leaders in Washington to respond to written questions from Walter Martin as a foremost Evangelical writer on cults, preparing to write on Seventh-day Adventists. The QOD manuscript, evidently written in the main by Froom, was sent to 250 thought-leaders worldwide. Detailed responses in writing were comparatively few, but with one exception they sounded procedural and theological warnings. Did church leaders fail to understand these cautions? Why did they not heed them? Did they wilfully keep them secret? Enter Andreasen, Adventism’s “Great Dane” who became a whistleblower par excellence, losing his cherished ministerial credentials in the process and regaining them posthumously. Not only have Andreasen’s strident epistles been published or quoted since 1958 by independent presses worldwide, they have become a bible for criticism of Adventist leadership that flourishes to this day. For instance, Russell and Colin Standish have written 55 books; some of their periodicals and about 18 of their books focus on “the ills of God’s church.” For such authors the QOD affair is a fundamental deviation.  

Other strengths of Moore’s tome deserve unpacking. Adventists who live in places distant from the church’s archives in Washington often languish for access to primary sources, a reason why at Andrews University overseas students cherish the collections housed in the James White Library. However, an intentional decision made at Adventist headquarters in 1972 means costly research facilities have been established and maintained in the major geographical regions of the world. It is thirty-five years since I migrated from pastoral-evangelism via Andrews University to research and teaching focused on Adventist Studies; for eight years I was director of the Research Center serving the South Pacific Division. But Moore teaches me important things in his book, even though I thought I had reviewed most of the relevant documentation. The biography of Raymond Cottrell currently being written will likely put in place another important piece of the QOD jigsaw puzzle.

However, there are some crucial questions that Moore needs to comment upon as part of the ongoing Adventist conversation. Has he read Rolf Poehler’s Andrews University dissertation (1995) in its original form or as two published books and, if so, to what extent does he see Poehler’s illuminating work as providing a reliable framework for understanding the development of doctrine during the first 140 years of Sabbatarian Adventism? Moore’s Appendix D, “Pioneers Proclaim Atonement on the Cross” indicates a commendable interest in the big picture to which he needs to give more definition. Much of the unreasoned opposition to QOD derives from the false claim that Adventist doctrine is static, not dynamic.

Secondly, Moore seems to use the writings of Ellen White as doctrinally authoritative and fully harmonious, whenever they were written, without historical explanation or theological qualification. Has Adventism learned nothing on this issue from the discussions that began a new phase with a celebrated issue of Spectrum in 1970? What conclusions emerge from a careful reading of five recent books: Graeme Bradford, Prophets Are Human (2004) and its forthcoming sequel; Don McMahon, Acquired or Inspired? (2005); Leonard Brand and Don McMahon, The Prophet and Her Critics (2005); and Alden Thomson, Escape From the Flames (2005). Do we not better understand Ellen White’s prophetic witness as we keep in mind “time and place,” her symbiotic relationship with a developing movement and her remarkable ability to grow in understanding as she walked with the Lord during seventy long years?

Thirdly, Moore ardently believes he can resolve the conflict over the human nature of Christ. He rightly emphasises Adventism’s need to better implement the Protestant principle of the priesthood of all believers. How should this principle be applied? Christ’s nature during the incarnation is first of all a biblical question that calls the church to benefit from the spiritual gifts of its small army of New Testament scholars. Next, we need to learn from historical theology within the Christian church generally and Adventism particularly. Herbert Douglass has said some illuminating things about “The Ellipse of Salvation Truth” that seem to accord with some of Moore’s propositions. Moore needs to more fully explicate his view of these dimensions of the discussion.

Essentially, Adventists frequently ask contrasting questions about Christ’s nature during the incarnation: How can Christ be effective as my Saviour unless He is just like me? How can Christ be effective as my Saviour if He is just like me? Tragically, rather than listening well to each other we often divide according to pre-conceived  hunches about the issues and their implications. It would be wonderful if Moore has found the ultimate solution to this dilemma with his proposal of sinless spiritual nature and sinful physical nature. But there is probably much more than that needing to be said if the priesthood of believers is to reach effective consensus.  Moore helps this process by drawing attention to relevant analyses by Kenneth Wood (1978), Jerry Moon (1988), Woodrow Whidden (1995, 1997), Julius Nam (1995-2005), and others. But he misses vital research such as that by Paul McGraw. All these studies and others like them need availability worldwide to inform the discussion effectively.

Again, Moore has written an America-centric book. Currently, only about one of every fourteen Adventists live in North America. The QOD debate has a life of its own and proposed solutions in other parts of the Adventist world. Moore’s few dismissive references to Desmond Ford do not take adequate account of Ford’s attempts to elucidate the relevant issues. Nor does Moore mention the consensus statement developed by the largest-ever group assembled to focus on the ministry of Christ in the heavenly sanctuary (August, 1980). He doesn’t even allude to the report of the Righteousness by Faith Consultation rendered on the last day of July that same year. No attempt to understand Adventist teachings on the sanctuary and Righteousness by Faith from 1957 to the present can afford such omissions.

Such caveats do not negate the enduring value of Moore’s efforts. His 2005 book nudges the church to look beyond decades of destructive conflict toward a better asking of generic questions about QOD and a more fruitful evaluation of the full range of potential answers. Andreasen’s charges can never be published again, conscientiously, as “accurate to a fault” (to quote Joe Crews).

Moore encourages Adventists nurturing deeply held, opposing convictions to listen actively to each other as they navigate toward the harbour of salvation. He has braved turbulent seas to position another guiding light amidst shoals and reefs that have too often caused shipwrecks in terms of personal faith, church relationships and effective mission.

1 Knight’s analyses are well expressed in his “Historical and Theological Introduction to the Annotated Edition,” pages xiii-xxxvi, Seventh-day Adventists Answer Questions on Doctrine (Berrien Springs, MI: Andrews University Press, 2003). Of particular value are his comments in Appendix B: “Christ’s Nature During the Incarnation,” pages 513-547, plus his contextualisation of the issues in others of his many articles and books.

Note: I wrote this review of Moore’s book for publication in North America; it was published as “Moore’s Light on an Adventist Trouble,” Adventist Today 14, Issue 3 (May/June 2006), 22-23, 20. I am posting it today because currently Moore is speaking in Australia (including Cooranbong and the Central Coast); hence it is appropriate to recognise his long-term contribution to Adventist Studies.

Arthur Patrick, 21 November 2011

Post 24, More on the Ellen White Project: Portland and Beyond

As previously reported on this website, the Ellen White Project reached a high point on 27 October 2011, when the editors passed a book manuscript to a major academic publisher. This website will, from time to time, offer historical perspectives on the process that created this volume and, when the book is published, it will be reviewed. Here is a reflection that I wrote two months after the Portland conference. (Note some of the facts are dated; Bert Haloviak has retired, Dr David Trim is now the Director of Archives, Statistics and Research at the General Conference. And some of the spelling is American, not Australian!)

The conference held in Portland, Maine, 22-25 October 2009, may well transpose a long-continuing discussion about Ellen White into a new key.  As a working conference, it followed a long series of forward initiatives taken in various parts of the world. For instance, research into the Millerite origins of Sabbatarian Adventism began its slow development with Everett Dick’s doctoral study of 1930; the process accelerated with a conference on the rise of Adventism in the 1970s; it matured with the subsequent publication of a series of substantial volumes, including The Disappointed (1987). Ellen White Studies as a serious but still un-named discipline began a new and torturous course in 1970 when trained historians began to achieve better access to archival facilities. Adventist Studies as a named academic discipline became available as an accredited option for PhD students at Andrews University during 1993. More recently, State and Federal authorities in Australia have accredited PhD programs in education, health, history, and theology at Avondale College. Avondale’s struggles since 2006 to develop Adventist Studies as a doctoral option may be assessed with the help of a 20-page document that is available on the institution’s website, entitled “A Brief, Annotated Introduction to the Field of Adventist Studies for Higher Degree Students.” Now, in the light of the Portland conference, the future of the effervescent dialogue and dialectic about Ellen White has never seemed brighter.

The perceived success of a conference on a difficult historical/doctrinal topic that convened at Andrews University during October 2007 encouraged at least one of its organisers to join the team planning the far more ambitious event in Portland this year. The 2007 conference sought to hear voices representing the array of opinion, developed over a half-century, regarding the most controversial book ever published by Seventh-day Adventists—a volume usually referred to by its short title, Questions on Doctrine (see Whereas the 2007 conference was mainly theological in its orientation, the 2009 one was more overtly historical, climaxing discussions held since 1998 at meetings of the Association of Seventh-day Adventist Historians. (ASDAH, it must be remembered, had fostered The Disappointed, back in the 1980s.) Further, the 2009 conference had a much wider focus: the life and writings of Ellen Gould Harmon White (1827-1915) as simultaneously an American prophet and one of Adventism’s three co-founders (for basic information, see the Ellen White Project website).

Now that the message of Michael Campbell’s dissertation (2008) is becoming widely known, Adventists better understand the 1919 conference that engaged Adventist administrators, Bible and history teachers. Much of the wide-ranging conference agenda focused on the interpretation of Bible prophecy, but spirited discussions occurred about Ellen White, especially near the end of the conference. Since Ellen White had died in 1915, it was appropriate for the church to reflect on her life and the continuing significance of her writings. Memorable comments were recorded from loyal Adventist leaders who knew Ellen White personally and worked closely with her for decades as she wrote, compiled, and edited her major writings. These men revealed a thoroughly- informed, historically-accurate view of Ellen White, her spiritual giftedness, and the appropriate application of her writings. However, due to threats made and misinformation promulgated in a violent pamphlet war, their insights were sidelined in favor of an Ellen White heavily conditioned by Protestant Fundamentalism. So thoroughly were all memories of the 1919 Bible conference submerged that the Adventist community was startled when selected transcripts of the 1919 conversations were published in Spectrum during 1978. (Roy Branson, editor of Spectrum for 23 years, during a mealtime conversation on 24 October 2009, suggested to me that the 1978 publication of the 1919 transcripts was the journal’s most important initiative, 1969-2009. Anyone who finds it difficult to access Campbell’s dissertation about the 1919 event may care to read one of my summaries of it, such as that on

To write good Adventist history, historians require access to primary sources. Although Everett Dick in 1930 established a benchmark for Millerite historiography, it took another four decades for the Adventist community to develop a group of well-trained historians who effectively made public the results of their (still limited) access to primary documents about Ellen White. The processes described in Jonathan Butler’s illuminating essay, “The Historian as Heretic,” would rob Adventism of several of its finest scholars between 1976 and 1983. It was within that climate of vigorous debate that the first-ever International Prophetic Guidance Workshop convened at Adventism’s world headquarters, during April 1982.

As one of about 70 attendees, I listened expectantly to conversations that included Arthur L. White, Robert W. Olson, Ronald D. Graybill, and many others whose writings I had been avidly reading since my 1976 appointment as director of the Ellen G. White/Seventh-day Adventist Research Centre serving the South Pacific Division. Unlike 1919, these epochal exchanges were not stenographically reported; instead, they were recorded on cassettes. I looked forward to sharing both the 941 pages of documents distributed to attendees, and the cassettes, upon my return to Australia during April 1982. But my Division president quickly decreed that such materials should not be shared. Since 1979 in Australia, conflict over Ellen White had been escalating as a main reason why a third of the South Pacific Division’s ministers would either resign or be dismissed, between 1980 and 1988. A prime reason why destructive controversy spiralled upward was that sources for effective study were under such tight control.

Even my brief articles published on seem to present sufficient evidence to validate the claim that the 1982 Workshop was a sterling attempt to deal with crucial issues relating to the life and writings of Ellen White, but that the outcomes were constrained due to the limited access people had to the recorded conversations and the 941 pages of documentation, let alone essential primary sources. Reports of the Workshop were largely unwelcome, unless they were edited to the point that they retained minimal information about the event.

How different is the situation in 2009!

Interestingly, the number of participants in the conferences held during 1919, 1982, and 2009 are quite similar. But the composition of the 2009 group vastly contrasts with the all-Adventist attendees at the earlier conferences. The official list of participants given to us in Portland has 66 names on it; about a third of them are persons of non-Adventist background, mostly well-known authors who have written effectively about American religious history. The rest of the attendees were raised as Adventists, or embraced the faith, before writing doctoral dissertations or publishing studies that in some way illumine the life and writings of Ellen White. A number of the attendees contributed substantively to the intense discussions of the 1970s and 1980s before the church marginalized their participation. Fifteen other participants are current employees who are contributing to the present understanding of Ellen White due to their background as historians; a smaller number of professionals were present from such disciplines as biblical studies, theology and sociology.

Three Reasons Why the Portland Event Was Successful

In the after-glow of the Maine conference, it seems to me that its potential may be assessed in the light of observations like the following.

First, credible historiography thrives on effective access to primary sources by competent professionals. In this respect, the Portland conference towers far above all its parallels. Adventist Studies in general (and its sub-set Ellen White Studies in particular) are now quite thoroughly democratized. Access to resources for effective study could be prevented by an administrative decree as recently as 1982; currently, an unquantifiable array of primary documentation is available to anyone who has a computer connected to the Internet. (See, for instance, the website of the General Conference Office of Archives and Statistics, superintended by Bert Haloviak, and the bibliographies compiled by Gary Shearer of Pacific Union College.) If acclaimed doctoral dissertations, refereed journal articles, and scholarly books are measures of competence, many of the historians who participated at Portland are of world status. Obviously their research reaches far beyond the capabilities of the Internet, and any claim they made at the conference was subject to the immediate scrutiny of colleagues well versed in the matters that surfaced in lively discussion periods. Such a climate for research and dialogue was beyond our wildest dreams as recently as 1982. The conference revealed that a wide consensus has developed regarding the historical Ellen White; a present need is for effective interpretation to further develop along the lines of the scholarly volume that is anticipated next year, as an outgrowth of the conference.

Second, the conference highlighted crucial chapter topics that focused the efforts of 21 authors. At the foundation of the assigned chapters was a biographical sketch of Ellen White and a focus on the historiographical volumes produced about her, from the early Adventist period to the present. Next, the religious culture within which Ellen White ministered was observed as influencing the methods she chose to shape the Sabbatarian community and build a new denomination, considerably through her testimonies. One specialist contextualized Ellen White’s early religious experiences; another depicted her engagement with health issues; others treated subjects as complex as race relations, or mind and metaphysics; yet another offered perspectives on her attitudes toward popular culture. Larger contexts for the conference were provided on the first night by the scholar who wrote a recent biography of Harriet Beecher Stowe, and on the second night by an established author who is writing a new biography of Billy Graham. A worship experience on the second main day of the conference featured a homily entitled “Joy in the Morning” by a New Testament specialist, Dr Kendra Haloviak. Next we were led to consider Adventist understandings (and mis-understandings!) of Ellen White, her engagement with American society, her theology, her eschatology, her roles as institution builder, author and public speaker. Other chapter authors explored Ellen White’s perceptions of women’s roles and education; how observers outside of Adventism interpreted her writings; the nature of her legacy. The reflective, concluding hour of the conference began with a six-member panel whose members addressed the theme “Ellen White: Looking Forward.”  While it would be difficult to see how the conference organisers could have packed more content into the event, it is obvious that all the important data cannot be compressed within the covers of one scholarly volume.

Third, an effective dialogical process pervaded the conference. Two specialists were appointed to respond to each chapter, one an Adventist, and one a non-Adventist. Chapter authors had the option to comment briefly about the scripts that were already circulated to all attendees before the conference, then respondents shared their written observations. Next, for about ten of each 45 minutes, roving microphones facilitated the vigorous group discussion that was likely to spill over into informal conversations in the dining room or on the streets of Portland. Therefore, the conference maximised the exchange of perceptions between two groups: people who had sought for decades to understand Ellen White’s life and writings, and acknowledged specialists in American religious history.

My argument here is that, unlike any earlier era in Adventism, adequate primary sources are now readily available for serious study. The Adventist community has developed women and men who are able to offer competent leadership in the daunting process of interpreting these extensive documents coherently. Further, the conference organisers planned effective communication between specialists in Ellen White Studies and other scholars whose lives are devoted to understanding American religious history in its broad contexts. These three considerations facilitated a constructive outcome for the Portland event.

Concluding Observations

The organisers of the 2009 conference have given Adventists and the scholarly world a fresh opportunity to foster a mature, sustainable understanding of Ellen White amongst believers and the wider community, especially that of North America. From a handful of disappointed Millerites, the Second Advent Movement is now a world religion of about sixteen million baptized members. Will we, without further delay, transcend the unnecessary conflicts and the false assumptions about our church’s “mother” that have been both pervasive and destructive in the past? (Note the content of my paper on the Avondale and Adventist Today websites, entitled “Re-parenting Seventh-day Adventists.”) Will we invest a commitment comparable to that of Ellen White in spreading the message of grace revealed in the incarnation of Jesus Christ, and the message of hope focused in His Second Coming? Seventh-day Adventism is, above all, a global family with its eyes set towards “the truth as it is in Jesus” (a favorite refrain in Ellen White’s writings). The Alpha and the Omega of our faith has too often been supplanted by controversies that are no longer necessary, now that the facts about “the way the Lord has led us, and His teachings in our past history” are so freely available.


The above remarks were written to offer the reader a context for the following oral presentations.

I. “Seventh-day Adventism, 1919-2009: ‘a constant process of struggle and rebirth’?” The 1919 conversations between administrators, Bible and history teachers and the October 2009 conference in Portland, Maine (on the life and writings of Ellen White), frame 90 years of Adventism’s encounter with modern and post-modern culture. A Catholic author, Paul Johnson, writes in the Epilogue to his volume A History of Christianity: “Christian history is a constant process of struggle and rebirth—a succession of crises, often accompanied by horror, bloodshed, bigotry and unreason, but evidence too of growth, vitality and increased understanding.” This presentation cited a number of doctoral studies that illumine Johnson’s comment as it applies to Adventist struggles, suggesting trends that seem likely to become more significant in the near future.

II. “The Life and Times of Ellen Gould Harmon White: Assessing Fact and Faith After the First Scholarly, Inter-faith Discussion of the Adventist Prophet.” This presentation reflected on the conference held in Portland, Maine, 22-25 October 2009. Those interested in the topic were invited to read the “backdrop” piece, mentioned above (“Re-parenting Seventh-day Adventists?”) that is available on the Avondale College website and on the Adventist Today website.

III. “Forty Years of Ellen White Studies: Tradition, Transformation, and the Adventist Future”

I expected attendees at each of these presentations to share a plethora of comments and questions, and was not disappointed. I am still in the process of listing a range of matters regarding Ellen White Studies that seem to merit particular consideration at the present time.

Arthur Patrick, 22 December 2009         

Internet addresses for further information and comment:

The official website of the conference project is

For an interview with Dr. Gary Land, lead editor of the proposed book, see

For a report by Dr Alden Thompson see

For comment about the conference by Dr Jon Paulien, see

Photos from the conference are available at

The Avondale website location of the “Re-parenting” paper

For comment by Randall Stephens, Eastern Nazarene College, see

Post 23, Waggoner and 1888: An Excellent Biography

“The Lord in His great mercy sent a most precious message to His people through Elders Waggoner and Jones,” Testimonies to Ministers (page 91). That sentence is still one of the best-remembered statements from the copious writings of Ellen White about the epochal General Conference held in Minneapolis, Minnesota (USA), during 1888.

During the 1960s, such statements awakened an intense discussion amongst Adventists in Australia and New Zealand, stimulated by the writings of Robert J. Wieland, Donald K. Short, Milian L. Andreasen and Robert D. Brinsmead. Ellen White’s affirmations were used to highlight the crucial importance of the “most precious message” given by the two young ministers, A.T. Jones and E.J. Waggoner.  Constantly, we were warned: “If you reject Christ’s delegated messengers, you reject Christ” (page 97).

The church has long needed the book, one of the ongoing Adventist Pioneer Series: Woodrow W. Whidden II, E.J. Waggoner: From the Physician of Good News to Agent of Division (Review and Herald, 2008).  George R. Knight as the series editor ensures the quality of the series. There are a number of strengths in this biography of Ellet J. Waggoner (1855-1916); we will notice just three.

First, to understand history, authors must have sources, especially primary sources.

In 1950, Wieland and Short began to ask important questions about 1888. Between 1958 and 1970, spurred by Wieland and Short’s writings as well as those of Andreasen, Brinsmead wrote and spoke about 1888 with intense passion. But all four men were bereft of essential documentation. In 1966, A.V. Olson’s Through Crisis to Victory helped somewhat, as did Froom’s Movement of Destiny in 1972. David McMahon gave us some remarkably good insights in his book Ellet Joseph Waggoner (1979), following his detailed analyses of some of Waggoner’s articles. But it wasn’t until the 1980s that comprehensive progress was made with the full range of complex issues, as a wealth of primary sources was mined by well-trained historians and other researchers. Three of many studies illustrate the clearer understanding that was developing: Eric Webster, Crosscurrents in Adventist Christology (1984); George Knight From 1888 to Apostasy: the Case of A.T. Jones (1987), and a slim volume edited by Arthur J. Ferch, Towards Righteousness by Faith: 1888 in Retrospect (1989).

Second, it was not until 1980 that most of the important biblical questions were widely understood amongst Adventists. Brinsmead radically changed his focus from about 1970, as he and others asked what Adventists needed to learn about Righteousness by Faith from the Protestant Reformation. Desmond Ford had long struggled with the scriptural issues, but by the mid-1970s he was encountering strong opposition from a group of ministers and laymen who would sign their protest as “Concerned Brethren,” and whose ideas would be supported in the copious writings of Russell R. and Colin D. Standish. Clearly, careful Bible study was required, so church leaders put in place two important initiatives: a conference at Palmdale in the high desert of California during 1976, and a Righteousness by Faith Consultation that reported in Adventist Review, 31 July 1980. At last the church was developing a better grasp of the questions that needed asking and answering from Scripture.

Third, Dr Whidden had far more than the combined benefits of all the primary sources, all the secondary studies and the biblical data listed above. With fuller documentation than that available to all the authors just mentioned, plus the added help of a number of recent, detailed studies of Waggoner, his book offers us mature perspectives. Much that is now clear was quite beyond our ken as recently as the 1970s. We can now better understand Ellen White’s endorsement of Waggoner, and her sorrowful dis-endorsement of him–when both his theology and personal morality became unacceptable.

Those earnest Adventists who focus upon and diligently promote some of Waggoner’s writings need Dr Whidden as a competent tour guide through the whole maze. It is now evident that, as early as 1889, the loved “messenger” was becoming unreliable as a spiritual guide. His decline was probably accelerated during the 1890s by the heresy of a Scottish author, Edward Irving, who advocated the teaching that Christ had a sinful human nature. While Dr Waggoner avoided some of the pantheistic ideas of his colleague Dr John Harvey Kellogg, he developed an even more subtle error, a form of panentheism. As he diminished his early focus on justifying grace, he emphasised the Christ within, to the point where his doctrines of “perfection” and “spiritual affinities” ended his effectiveness as a minister.

With Dr Whidden’s biography, we can better celebrate God’s gift to us through Ellet J. Waggoner, cherishing “the most precious message” and avoiding the perils that beset “the Physician of Good News.”

Arthur Patrick, posted 17 November 2011

 For more information about the biography see my earlier online review,, January 2009.

Post 22, Encircling Gloom, Kindly Light: Seeing Glacier View with the Lantern of History

Note: Recently my grandson Braden Johnson, transferred documents from computers long dead to my iMac. Yesterday, an experienced researcher asked me about Glacier View. So I spent a few moments looking through old files and found this summary of much longer studies, without the tedium of the others that I wrote after hundred of hours of interviews and research. I post it today (11 November 2011) exactly as it was in its seventh edition, back in 2005. Readers of this blog may notice its content illumines earlier posts, especially the one on Daniel 8:14 and the “assumptions” that undergird its traditional interpretation.

Twenty-five years ago, 125 leaders and scholars representing global Seventh-day Adventism were invited to meet at Glacier View Ranch, a youth convention facility in the foothills of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. Now the two words, Glacier View, are famous as Adventist shorthand for dissension, even division. Currently there is scant agreement within the worldwide Adventist family on how to understand the event, but this problematic situation need not continue.

John Henry Newman was touring the Mediterranean as William Miller began traveling New England to proclaim “the Advent near.” Newman’s hymn longs for “kindly Light” to lead his pilgrimage from evangelical faith into traditional Christianity. William Miller cherished the lamp of Scripture on his journey from rationalism, past postmillennialism toward “the full faith of the Second Advent.”

Long years later, during the 1970s and 1980s, Miller’s spiritual descendants experienced “encircling gloom” as, for many, tradition took precedence over Scripture. The same problem impacts Adventism in 2005, focusing conflict and inhibiting mission. Therefore, it is crucial for the church to be aware that abundant sources offer a redemptive understanding of Glacier View and invite a coherent application of its major lessons.

The Interpretive Task

Now it is easy to describe Glacier View, listing 114 actual attendees, reviewing two thousand pages of documents, analysing two consensus statements and the ten-point summary prepared by six conferees. However, these pieces of the jigsaw fail to construct a coherent picture.

Glacier View was a Christian council; such events have demonstrated strengths and limitations since the one described in Acts 15. It was also an Adventist conference, so its process needs to be seen in the light of the “General Conference of Christians Expecting the Second Advent of Christ” (1840) and a host of such occasions in Millerite and Sabbatarian Adventism, including the Sabbath Conferences (1848-1850). Glacier View is the largest international event of its type convened primarily so administrators and scholars could together examine the most distinctive fundamental belief of Seventh-day Adventism. It followed soon after the General Conference presidency of Robert Pierson, during the council-rich leadership of Neal Wilson (1979-1990). Women were minimally represented and laypersons were absent. Crucially, Glacier View convened in America to lance a systemic boil erupting once again in the Australian part of Christ’s body.

However, the controversial decision commonly associated with Glacier View was made after the closure of the council, contrasting with both the spirit of the council and the content of the only two statements voted by it. This decision implemented the convictions of an Australian leader, Division president Keith Parmenter (1918-1993). The rationale for and method of that crucial decision would be important factors in ending the careers of many church employees. Four of every ten ministers serving in Australia and New Zealand resigned or were dismissed between 1980 and 1988, many for complex reasons related to Glacier View. Large but uncounted numbers of teachers and members were similarly affected. Trauma in families, conflict in local churches and diminished commitment to mission constituted an encircling gloom.

Grief experiences may be aided by understanding; it is, therefore, an Adventist duty to ask if therapeutic insights derive from Glacier View.

The Problem: Information

Above all else, Glacier View provides a case study of the problem faced by a community that is inundated with new information.

After two global conflicts and a pervasive economic depression, by mid-century nuclear colossi confronted each other malevolently across a trembling world. Adolf Hitler had marched to his doom exactly as Adventist evangelists predicted from Daniel 2 but, dismayingly, Armageddon was postponed yet again. Many Adventists were certain humans would never be permitted to infect heavenly spheres, but sinful men trod the surface of the moon. New modes for storing and transferring information were proliferating; the world was simultaneously shrinking into a global village yet expanding as a morass of insoluble problems. Gone was the optimism of the nineteenth century with its “parliament of man”: the United Nations, the impulse to unite Europe, the Arab-Israeli conflict (Jerusalem would be trodden by Gentiles until the end), stirrings in Africa, the social unrest of the 1960s in Western society and a host of other events were at the same time harbingers of the time of trouble such as never was and gleams of the golden morning. But confusingly, a multitude of predictions by Adventist evangelists and apologists required revision. The prophetic light that shines in a dark place revealed increasingly the peril of dogmatic predictions.

This unexampled situation made Australian Adventism both nervous and hopeful. That archeology proved the Bible true was proclaimed to a thousand evangelistic audiences gathered by the title “Dead Men Do Tell Tales.” But archeology also illumined the Scriptures with disturbing new information. A seven-volume Bible commentary (1954-1957) for the people who already had “the truth” gave more than one interpretation for certain well-known passages. Even the text and translation of the Bible was not as sure anymore, a book was published under the scary title Problems in Bible Translation (1954). Science offered scintillating insights but even more disturbing challenges: the edibility and survival of Jonah might be well demonstrated by a modern narrative, but Genesis as a text for modern science was becoming hard to swallow. George McCready Price spent a half-century denying the existence of the geologic column; now his faithful students were explaining the geologic column. A movement that cherished “the message” needed by the world was under attack, so it seemed, from within and without.

Adventist Samsons smote the enemies of truth with great slaughter, using every available jawbone. An Australian (so long in North America his drawl was lost) put to flight the armies of the aliens in 1951 with Ellen G. White and Her Critics. But, shock horror, the ink was not long dry when researchers from within began to demonstrate the inadequacy of Nichol’s apology. Scientists commissioned to examine the crust of the earth and indicators of time lost their jobs when their research proved there was substance in claims they were meant to attack. Medico Jackson Saxon assured the church in 1971 that of all health writings, only those by Ellen White needed no revision; in 1976 Ronald Numbers suggested historical research indicated otherwise. Didn’t Ellen White get her ideas through a stainless steel pipe that conveyed God’s word directly to her ear? Were all the triumphs of Adventist apologetics Pyrrhic victories at best, Egyptian victories at worst? Adventist certitude was under threat from the dagger of evidence.

Fortunately, another Australian was found and sent into the colosseum to combat the lions. Desmond Ford was a convert from the Anglican faith, introduced considerably to Adventism by reading The Great Controversy and mentored at the Australasian Missionary College from 1947 to 1950 by a kindly Scot, William Murdoch. Ford was one of the two highest achievers at the first-ever Seminary Extension School in Australia (1957-1958), with Edward Heppenstall and Arthur White as instructors. Despite limited tertiary education before his graduation in 1950, but now with valuable pastoral-evangelistic experience, Ford completed a B.A. (Theology) degree in 1958 and then M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in the United States. As chairperson of theology at his Alma Mater, Ford became Mister Adventist for Australasia, esteemed by students, sought for speaking appointments in conferences, churches and campmeetings.

The picture is clear now: the church from the mid-twentieth century was being confronted as never before by its world, a modern world two centuries after the onset of the Enlightenment. Seventh-day Adventism was born on a dreary October morning in 1844 and nourished by five “s” concepts: Second Advent, Sanctuary, Sabbath, State of the Dead and Spiritual Gifts. These landmark ideas became distinctives, transforming disappointed Millerites into ardent Sabbatarians, cherishing “the truth” and sharing “the message.” Each of these concepts was shaped by specific circumstances; they would be reshaped as an America-centric movement embraced a world mission.

Increasingly from the 1950s, the five landmarks of Sabbatarian Adventism experienced confirmation of essence and disconfirmation of detail. Loyal members were starting to see a necessity for change in perceptions of these truths and their presentation to both believers and potential converts. Astonishingly, for the truest of believers, people dismissed as “fallen Adventists” or even Babylon in the 1840s could speak of the Remnant as “redeemed brethren” in the 1950s. The discords of the troubled final years of Adventism’s “Great Dane,” M.L. Andreasen (1876-1962), were amplified in Australasia as Robert Brinsmead sang from the same hymn sheet. Now the fightings without were reinforced by foes that created fears within.

Ford became the most-sought-after person to combat both types of critics. But the terminal illness of his wife, Gwen, diminished his resilience. A pilgrimage to Manchester offered respite and discovery. Although a coterie of determinedly uncompromising ministers and members was beginning to doubt his “answers to objections” against “the truth,” some were comforted by the announcement that he would study in England under the noted “fundamentalist” scholar, F.F. Bruce. This assurance was not enough for others: Manchester was a “worldly” university; Bruce was in that Babylon of which a voice from heaven said, “Come out of her, my people.”

More trouble was in the offing. A groundhog is a small, burrowing North American animal that digs down, along, then up, takes a deep breath and says “Aha! Pure air here.” For years Brinsmead had caught Adventists’ attention with his groundhog method of doing theology, burrowing down from the perplexities of the 1960s to the certainties of early Adventism and 1888 to find pure theological air. Now he began applying his method differently, going back to the Reformation. Wasn’t that the religion of Barnhouse, Martin and the suspect book of 1957, Seventh-day Adventists Answer Questions on Doctrine?

My ministerial career almost ended in the 1960s when I could not in good conscience declare “Robert Brinsmead is of the devil.” I could say Bob had done some devilish things (as have I!); I could point out serious disagreements between my theology and his. But I was confident a person disfellowshipped for an alleged connection with Brinsmead was now ready for readmission in the congregation of which I was pastor. The executive committee of the conference came to believe that I must prove my “loyalty” with six unequivocal words.

Now it was the 1970s; the “new” Brinsmead and Desmond Ford, M.A., Ph.D., Ph.D., chairperson of the Department of Theology at Avondale College, seemed to be saying the same thing about “the gospel.” Ford was the leader for parrying Brinsmead during the previous decade. But he attended an institution in Babylon, earning another doctoral degree under the supervision of an outstanding Babylonian. In a world of diminishing certainty, Ford had to answer the unremitting stream of questions pouring on to the church’s corporate desk. But his answers didn’t sound exclusivist to true believers. One of the most trusted of them labelled Desmond Ford “Doctor of Doubt” and wrote a passionate pamphlet detailing “The Dangerous Doctrines of Doctor Desmond Ford.”

It did not help to calm conflict that from 1970 a plethora of new questions was asked about the life and writings of Ellen White. The church in the United States was discovering and burning its heretics, too, so we Australians had precedents to guide us. With the experience of Ronald Numbers dimly perceived, Australians “knew” in 1978 that Walter Rea’s claim (Ellen White consulted sources when writing her 1898 masterpiece) was completely false. By 1980 Rea’s cat was already out of the Adventist bag, but even in 1982 the Australasian Record claimed a literary relationship of about 0.002 existed between Ellen White’s writings and those of other authors. That figure would need multiplication by 15,000 when the Veltman team reported on fifteen chapters from The Desire of Ages.

These paragraphs offer illustrative exhibits from a vast array of evidence indicating Adventism of the period was encountering a large volume of qualitatively new information, sufficient to exercise the spiritual gifts of its finest advocates. No longer were tidy lists of proof texts adequate for the demanding task of sharing Adventism in Western society.

Pioneers, Specialists, Parties and the Problem Personified

Non-specialists founded the Advent Movement, including two farmers, a teenage girl, a retired mariner and a schoolteacher with 29 weeks of formal education/training. Profound respect is indicated for these pioneers in that the five biblical landmarks they perceived remain crucial after sixteen decades. An individual Adventist does not denigrate the church’s health message by consulting a heart specialist: nor does the church diminish respect for its founders by consulting specialists in a range of relevant disciplines. However, few Adventists of 1980 appreciated the fact that biblical understanding is usually progressive, not static.

I returned in 1973 to the village where I was born, Cooranbong, to teach at Avondale College, after fifteen years of evangelism, pastoral ministry and study in New Zealand and the United States. It was obvious that Australians had come to rely more heavily upon Desmond Ford as the church’s consulting specialist than upon any other person. But, almost immediately, I became aware that Mister Adventist for most was already Doctor of Doubt for many. Parties were developing in Australian Adventism, depicted by two acronyms: Grof and Fish. In the main, retired ministers and administrators captained the “Get Rid Of Ford” army with Ellen White their definer of doctrine and unchanging truth their banner. The “Ford Is Staying Here” troops had no cohesive leadership; often they included masses of young people so fired with enthusiasm for the gospel that they witnessed for their faith anywhere, even on city streets.

Enter Keith Parmenter, Australasian president, 1976-1983. A fluent preacher and a gracious leader, his farming background was enhanced at the Australasian Missionary College by accountancy studies and then the pre-degree Ministerial Course (1947). He knew the distress his predecessor had borne as stalwarts charged Ford and anyone who seemed theologically like him, or said similar things, with at least incipient heresy. Perhaps, Parmenter reasoned, Ford is a big fish in a little pond; in the United States, the towering strengths of others would balance his enthusiasms, then he could return to his beloved Avondale.

So Ford was at Pacific Union College by mid-1977. But the news from across the ocean wasn’t reassuring. Instead of burial in classrooms and learning from sages, Ford was speaking at colleges, campmeetings and everywhere. The Palmdale conference of 1976 hadn’t ended discussion of “the gospel”; even Adventist Review and Ministry saw Righteousness by Faith differently. So Ford’s “sentence,” to do time in a far country, needed prolonging. Then the sky fell on 27 October 1979, when Ford accepted an invitation to address the Pacific Union College chapter of the Association of Adventist Forums. To speak to a Forum was bad enough, to speak about the sanctuary and the thought of Ellen White in that context was dangerous. That Robert Brinsmead was (wrongly) blamed for distributing tape recordings of the address worldwide (50,000 copies, it was suggested!) was claimed as convincing evidence of a conspiracy between Ford and Brinsmead. Novellas like Walton’s Omega confirmed what was already “known”: Desmond Ford was the “omega of apostasy” predicted by Ellen White.

Glacier View and its Outcome

Church councils seldom meet in irenic circumstances: Nicea, for instance, had to satisfy a petulant emperor who wanted unity above truth. Some Glacier View conferees gave convincing evidence they hadn’t digested two thousand pages of homework placed on their desks three weeks before Glacier View. However, with all the limitations under which they labored, about 114 diverse individuals from all over the Adventist world in a mere five days created and voted approval of two consensus statements. These two documents illustrate what can happen when Christians talk to each other with Scripture as the focus of their attention. Elsewhere I’ve listed 39 papers needed to illumine Glacier View more adequately. One such paper should explore the question: Did the Glacier View conferees make as much progress in understanding the sanctuary teaching in five days as the church usually achieves in fifty years?

What does a harried administrator do in a time of crisis like Glacier View? He is likely to seek for a trustworthy view of the issues under consideration. Parmenter had found that, increasingly, and it was the same formulation that energised the earnest people who for more than a decade had been gathering faggots to burn Desmond Ford. The consensus statements crafted by the largest and most international body ever assembled to study the sanctuary let him down, badly. Even Ford would say he was “thrilled” with the consensus statements; Ford wrote in plain English his commitment to teach and preach within their parameters. Such an outcome would never be acceptable for those Parmenter would face immediately upon his return to Australia. Any solution that retained Ford contradicted Parmenter’s personal perception of counsel given by Ellen White. More than that, Parmenter believed the (false) allegations that Ford and Brinsmead were co-conspirators. Why else would Ford refuse to declare Brinsmead was of the devil?

On 15 August 1980, eight other administrators supported Parmenter in his hour of need. (The individual perspectives of Parmenter, Wilson and several others each merit an article of this length to adequately understand their engagement in the Glacier View process and its aftermath.) Adventism, a movement born with an antipathy for creeds had developed the creed that was written in the minds of true believers. Nine men chose a rationale and method that marginalised two documents expressing consensus and centralised the one defining difference, a statement neither voted nor discussed by the Glacier View conference. Thereafter, for years, the church would emphasise difference, not consensus.

Nine leaders on a Friday afternoon made a template for the accusations and trials of scores of ministers and uncounted others. Glacier View was unprecedented; now it was launched as Adventist shorthand for trauma and division. Even the flickering lantern of history reveals a stark reality: for a time the kindly light of Scripture shining on the Adventist pathway would be hidden under the bushel of tradition.

Arthur N. Patrick, DMin, PhD
Research Fellow, Avondale College
Cooranbong, NSW 2265, Australia

Seventh draft, 31 October 2005

Post 21, Diversification: Engaging With Adventist Studies Since 2005

The writing of the past seven years has been driven by circumstances that I did not foresee well in 2004. Within the early months of 2005, several new books about Ellen White entered circulation. For authors and presses to invest time and money in that way demonstrated that ninety years after her death Ellen White retained a unique significance amongst Seventh-day Adventists. Two of the volumes presented the research of an Australian medical specialist: Acquired or Inspired? Exploring the Origins of the Adventist Lifestyle (Warburton, Victoria, Australia: Signs Publishing Company, 2005) and The Prophet and Her Critics (Nampa, Idaho, United States of America: Pacific Press, 2005).

The Prophet and Her Critics was co-authored by Dr Leonard Brand of Loma Linda University and Dr Don S. McMahon of Melbourne, Australia. Brand sought to intensify the appeal of McMahon’s research for North American readers, providing a context for re-evaluating the earlier research of Ronald L. Numbers on health (1976), Jon Butler on prophetic fulfilment (1979) and Walter Rea on literary relationships (1982) in particular, proposing that the “quality of their research” should be examined to see “(1) whether their logic meets an acceptable scholarly standard, avoiding serious logical errors; (2) whether their data support the conclusions they reach; and (3) whether their research design adequately supports their conclusions” (page 14). Then Chapter 5, entitled “The Test,” summarised McMahon’s research and suggested the value of the CD included with McMahon’s volume, making available the data from which his conclusions were formed.

The core issue treated in both these books was the doctrine of inspiration as illumined by a study of Ellen White’s writings on health. In 1976, Numbers published the first edition of Prophetess of Health, demonstrating the value of careful historical research in the primary sources of Adventist history. Numbers frankly stated that he “refrained from using divine inspiration as an historical explanation” (Preface, page xi), a somewhat understandable stance since neither his familial upbringing nor his church nurture had offered him a doctrine of inspiration that was adequate in view of his discoveries. Since then, other studies have enlarged the church’s understanding of Ellen White’s contribution with reference to health and the benefits of the Adventist lifestyle, as in a doctoral dissertation by George Reid and a volume by Gary Fraser. In addition, the doctrine of inspiration has been explored in greater depth.

Enter Don S. McMahon, M.B., B.S., F.R.A.C.S., D.L.O. McMahon’s Adventist lifestyle as a young medical student in the late 1950s was deemed by then current medical opinion as either “irrelevant” or “dangerous,” hence the labelling he experienced from a lecturer in the University of Melbourne and the “friendly ridicule” of fellow students (page 1). However, at the 25-year reunion of his class, McMahon found that many of his colleagues remembered his “humiliation” at their hands, but also by that time a lot of them had adopted important features of his lifestyle and were advocating the same for their patients (page 2).

By 1987 McMahon was re-reading The Ministry of Healing, testing his hunch “that most—if not all—modern, health/lifestyle risk factors were covered by Ellen White” (page 139). A long engagement with the historical and scientific issues followed, as he identified “health and medical statements” that implied what should be done by the individual and why it should be done. Finally, with the help of a CD-ROM that enabled him to search Ellen White’s writings on computer and date any given statement, he was ready to compare her writings with those of five other nineteenth-century health advocates. Three of his medical colleagues checked McMahon’s analyses; a statistician contributed a probability study that gave him his greatest surprise: “The chances were astronomically against random chance” (page 141). Or, as Brand expresses the outcome:

After study of his findings, I find it difficult to see how it would be possible to explain Ellen White’s health principles without a definite input of information from a non-human source, since her health principles of how we should live reveal an accuracy level far above anything available anywhere in human health concepts anytime in the 19th century. McMahon’s work also gives fascinating insight into the nature and limits of the communication Ellen White received regarding health and the reasons for these health principles (Foreword, page iv).

I suggested at the time that there may well be extended discussion amongst medicos and others about the specifics within McMahon’s analyses of the whats and the whys enunciated by Ellen White, and the ways in which these transcend or compare with the recommendations of Graham, Alcott, Coles, Jackson and Kellogg. I deemed that mathematicians and statisticians would pore over the issues of probability and variance that McMahon proposed. But the big issue seemed clear: whereas most nineteenth-century medical writers wilt under scrutiny, Ellen White is exceptional. McMahon concludes: “When the knowledge of the mid-19th century is taken into consideration, it is impossible to exclude inspiration from Ellen White’s writings”; indeed, these writings “should not be rejected; it is essential they be carefully studied and appreciatively implemented” (page 142).

McMahon’s research was widely interpreted as reinforcing the contemporary relevance of the Adventist health message. Further, bolsted by Brand’s contextual framework and prescriptions for research design, it seemed to offer a compelling case study in the process of inspiration. This appeared to make it of profound significance for historians, students of Scripture and, indeed, for everyone interested in Adventist thought, lifestyle and mission. No single finding under the rubric of Adventist Studies during the past two decades seemed to offer such potential to enrich the ongoing conversation about Ellen White and how to understand and apply her spiritual gift.

However, I soon found myself located between McMahon and a highly-skilled neuorscientist in California, Dr T. Joe Willey. The caveats outlined in the paragraph above were discussed with unsubdued energy, especially McMahon’s distinction between Ellen White’s whats and the whys, and his statistical analyses in relation to the doctrine of inspiration. A complicating factor was that many of McMahon’s affirmations were sustainable on historical grounds, but Willey’s cautions were cogent as statistical considerations. A vast quantum of data accumulated rapidly. I attempted a preliminary review of the McMahon/Brand volumes and three others in Spectrum, but the dialectic remained vigorous for years.

The other volumes that I reviewed for Spectrum were by Graeme Bradford, Alden Thompson and the Standish brothers. I was deeply concerned by the negative reactions that Bradford’s books encountered, in that for two decades he had proved one of the most believable apologists for a sustainable understanding of Ellen White and her role within Adventism. Alden Thompson’s book accorded with his well-known stance as a staunch believer who capably examines all the data and lets it speak coherently. Russel R. Standish and Colin D. Standish, friends since we were at Avondale together in the early 1950s, rated my attempts at being faithful to the evidence as producing the most “disingenuous” material ever to blight a Seventh-day Adventist publication.

However, soon even more arresting condemnations were on my desk. Twenty-five years after the Sanctuary Review Committee met in 1980 at Glacier View Ranch in Colorado, the Sydney Adventist Forum invited me and others to offer historical perspectives on that effervescent event. I was glad to be able to participate, since four years earlier, as chairman of a committee appointed by the College Church, I had spent perhaps 500 hours reviewing the literature and interviewing people who maintained an interest in Glacier View and its aftermath. Part of my presentation at the Forum was summarised in Spectrum. Our interpretations failed to accord with the mind of an Australian employed at Adventist world headquarters, who wrote on official stationery suggesting that in view of my expressed opinions, I was no longer a Seventh-day Adventist. Other criticims came to me for writing a series of articles on Righteousness by Faith that was published by Good News for Adventists.

One immediate response was to offer a staff colloquium at Avondale College under the title “Adventist Studies: Troublesome Adolescent or Maturing Adult?” With the helpful comments of colleagues in mind, I deemed that the basic analyses presented should be in the public arena as a journal article. By November 2006, a first draft was sent to the Journal of Religious History, as a follow-up to my article the Journal had published in 1987 about sources for the effective study of Adventism. The text of the latter piece, before it was twice refereed, is now on the College website; the published article finally appeared in 2010. It seemed important that the issues be discussed responsibly, fully and irenically.

The idea that thorough discussion could constructively illumine Adventist controversies seemed to be established by the outcome of a conference convened at Andrews University in 2007, as a fifty-year review of the volume Seventh-day Adventists Answer Questions on Doctrine (1957). The organisers deliberately included high-profile representatives of the contrasting perspectives currently held with reference to the most controversial book ever published by the church. My paper needs to be read critically, in tandem with the other submissions that are available on the official website ( The apparent success of that conference helped pave the way for an even bolder initiative, “The Ellen White Project,” aiming to prepare a manuscript for a major academic publisher, introducing Ellen White to scholarly readers. I was deeply appreciative of the opportunity to be one of 21 chapter authors, an Australian invited to participate in an essentially North American project. My chapter on Ellen White as author was commissioned to confront the issue of plagiarism; I greatly valued the Portland, Maine, conference held during October 2009, and was gratified that in its amended form my chapter was passed to the publishers, along with the others, on 27 October 2011. The outcome will be a book that, for the first time, offers a contextualised introduction to the life and writings of Ellen White for well-informed readers who are beyond the borders of the church.

Meanwhile, it seemed crucial to seek a better understanding of the ground-breaking workshop held in Washington in 1982 when, for the first time, an international group sought to assess the newly-discovered data relating to Ellen White. This endeavour developed two papers that I presented to the Ellen G. White Coordinating Committee of the South Pacific Division, and placed on as “The Inspired and Inspiring Ellen White, Part 1: 1982 in Historical Perspective” (2007), and “The Inspired and Inspiring Ellen White, Part 2: Assessing Five Examples of the Documented Evidence” (2008). A paper presented at the New Perspectives on Christianity conference, held at Avondale College in January 2009, was entitled “Religious History in Century 21: Reflections of the Demand for Credible Historiography.” As a backdrop for reports about the Portland conference of 2009 that I presented at Loma Linda University, La Sierra University and the Dan Diego Forum, I prepared a paper entitled “The Re-parenting of Seventh-day Adventists: Reflections on the Historical Development, Substance, and Potential of Ellen White Studies,” an intem published on the Adventist Today Foundation and Avondale College websites.

During 2006, I wrote a guide for higher degree students who might be contemplating research in the area of Adventist Studies. The content of this pamphlet was revised in 2009, and is now available in printed as well as in electronic form on the Avondale website. Forewords written for the published forms (2007, 2008) of Michael Chamberlain’s and Rick Ferret’s doctoral theses gave me valuable opportunities to assess the ongoing status of Adventist Studies. The documents named above form a major strand of a much larger body of material written since 2005 and published by Signs of the Times in the United States and Australia, Record, Ministry, Teach: Journal of Christian Education, and other sources, including the Internet. An increasing amount of my time has also been devoted to consultation with PhD students for whom the discipline of Adventist Studies/Ellen White Studies is crucial.


Ellen White’s importance for Seventh-day Adventism is illustrated vividly by the discussion about her life and writings that is ongoing and vigorous. It has been my privilege to engage in this dialogue and dialectic increasingly since those effervescent classes in the SDA Theological Seminary four decades ago, but more especially since 1980. The opportunities for fruitful study in 2012 are attractive indeed: the church has developed many excellent resource centres; scholars in various parts of the world have contributed important aspects of the big picture; while major outlines are beyond dispute there are many options for continuing research; we have the amazing support of computer technology. I cherish the Seventh-day Adventist communion and firmly believe in the crucial role Ellen White has for both historic and contemporary Adventism. Whether my writings are seen as problematic or constructive is a matter best left to the judgment of others. For my part, I simply desire to continue walking by faith and pursuing “the truth as it is in Jesus,” with gratitude for grace abounding in the past and vibrant hope for the future.

Arthur Patrick, 9 November 2011

Post 20, A Spotlight on Ellen White: 1980-2004

For some readers this will be an ultimately boring blog, but several readers want a follow-up from yesterday’s post about how I drifted into Ellen White Studies. Therefore, this piece outlines some of what I wrote during the 25 years from 1980 to the end of 2004. All these documents may be accessed in the Ellen G. White/SDA Research Centre at Avondale College; some are available on, and more are available on the compact discs that the Research Centre at Avondale produces, usually each year. Another blog will cover the material written between 2005 and the present.

Various long-standing bulwarks of traditional Adventism, under increasing assault from 1970, seemed within a decade to be crumbling as the “Noonday of Certitude” gave way to open controversy. I have profiled some of this process insofar as it relates to the life and writings of Ellen White in a paper entitled “From Certitude Through Controversy Toward Consensus: An Historical Perspective on Ellen White Studies Since 1950” (2003). A companion paper, “Continuity and Change in Seventh-day Adventist Doctrine and Practice” (2003) offers a wider chronological perspective, whereas a more fully documented account is entitled “Reflections on Unfinished Business: Ellen White Studies in Historical Perspective” (2003). A further paper, delivered at a theological conference in February 2003, is entitled “Learning from Ellen White’s Perception and Use of Scripture: Toward an Adventist Hermeneutic for the Twenty-first Century.” At the Ellen White Summit on 5 February 2004, with the help of physicist Lynden Rogers as reader, I presented a paper entitled “Ellen White in South Pacific Adventism: Retrospect and Prospect,” noting again that until about 1970 Ellen White’s writings were assigned “a unique and growing status as the all-encompassing, definitive encyclopaedia of Adventist thought and practice,” whereas thereafter the church entered a period of controversy and (since about 1990) an era of growing consensus. After a brief, explanatory bibliography on pages 16 to 19, that paper offered a chronological list of over fifty of the documents that I wrote between 1980 and 2004. Of these, perhaps seven of the earlier pieces have prime importance: a paper “Ellen White in the Eighties,” 1980; an M.Litt. thesis, 1984; a Journal of Religious History article, 1987; a Ministry article, 1991; a Lucas article, 1991; a Ph.D. dissertation, 1992; an Adventist Heritage article, 1993.

It bears mention that a new phase of my engagement with Ellen White Studies began in 1997. At the time, as a visiting associate professor at La Sierra University in California, I was acutely disturbed by the way trusted colleagues throughout the Adventist world were either misunderstood or misrepresented by forthright presenters like Samuel Koranteng-Pipim. It appeared to me that a realistic appreciation of Ellen White’s spiritual gift might be a way to draw the church into more trustful fellowship and toward a better fulfilment of its mission; hence I delivered in San Francisco to the annual conference of the Adventist Society of Religious Studies a paper entitled “Re-Visioning the Role of Ellen White for Seventh-day Adventists Beyond 2000.” Fortunately, many members of the Adventist Theological Society were also present. Input or assessments from scores of thought leaders in Ellen White Studies, including Herbert Douglass and Kenneth Wood, was most helpful for my understanding. This discussion widened from North America to other parts of the world when placed a cluster of my papers on its website. The major 1997 presentation was updated at the request of Gary Chartier for inclusion in a symposium he hoped to edit from the Great Disappointment, Greater Hope lecture series that Paul Landa organised.

The documents cited above, especially those completed since 2002, may be read fruitfully in association with other presentations that offer brief comment upon or a context for the ongoing discussion. A paper entitled “Ellen White Yesterday and Today: Understanding and Affirming the Ministry of the Most Creative Sabbatarian Adventist” (2002) suggested why Ellen White is the Adventist transformationist par excellence. In reviews of books or dissertations by Douglas Morgan, Philip Jenkins, Rolf Poehler, Gary Land/Calvin Edwards, Merlin Burt, Michael Chamberlain, Bruce Manners, Alden Thompson and others I tried to portray issues important for Ellen White Studies within the context of 21st century Adventism. With the Ellen White Summit of 2004, the publication of a book by Graeme Bradford and the lively discussion following four interviews published in Record during February 2004, I felt the substance of my writings during the previous quarter century was either sufficiently understood or the issues were being taken care of effectively by others, as sugegsted in my report, “The Summit, the Book and the Record: Ellen White in the Ongoing Adventist Conversation” (2004).

By 2005, I wanted to more consistently apply Ellen White’s writings to the great themes of Seventh-day Adventism like, for instance, Christian education. I had begun that process with several presentations: “Does Ellen White Have a Crucial Testimony for Avondale in 1995?”; the Murdoch Memorial Lecture “Visioning and Re-Visioning Seventh-day Adventist Tertiary Education in Australia: A Centennial Assessment of Avondale College” (1997); “The Essence of Avondale: ‘A View from the Ridge’” (2003). I had also attempted a similar process with reference to the Holy Spirit (see the summation of that endeavour in two articles in Record, 4 December 1999) and in relation to the Adventist health message in a presentation entitled “Ellen Gould White: Pioneer of Adventist Health Emphases” (2004). It seemed appropriate to devote more energy toward fostering an inclusive concept of Adventist Studies as the major rubric within which Ellen White’s life and writings could best be interpreted and applied.

Arthur Patrick, 9 November 2011

Post 19, How I Drifted Into Adventist Studies/Ellen White Studies

Adventist Studies crucially informs the ongoing life and global witness of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. As an academic discipline, Adventist Studies has experienced remarkable maturation during the past forty years. My perceptions of this development, derived from personal experience and research, need to be checked against the understandings of many others. However, the following somewhat autobiographical account may stimulate the memories or illumine the research of individuals who wish to understand Adventist Studies in general and Ellen White Studies in particular.

From 1970-72 as a graduate student at Andrews University, I took a deep interest in the scintillating lectures of Dr Mervyn Maxwell and in due course eagerly purchased the essence of Maxwell’s classroom presentations in the form of a popular book. However, I was simultaneously aware of quite different discussions in the corridors of the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, especially about issues raised in a newly established journal offering fresh research by Adventist biblical scholars, theologians, historians and others. Covert conversations of the 1960s became public debates in the 1970s and explosive controversies in the 1980s. As a deepening sense of crisis enveloped Adventism, a sorting process began to occur as many members, teachers, ministers and administrators adopted one of three options: reversion, rejection or transformation.

A Bit of Historical Background Since 1944

In 1944, celebrations in the Avondale Village Church marking the first century of Sabbatarian Adventism fired my childish imagination, as did narratives of the interactions three of my grandparents had with Ellen Gould White (1827-1915) during the founding years of the Australasian Missionary College, now known as Avondale College of Higher Education. As a Theology student at Avondale (1954-7) my youthful interest in the study of Adventist history and thought was nurtured; soon thereafter it was galvanised by the controversy surrounding Robert Brinsmead and his colleagues. As a young pastor in South New Zealand, I found my congregations were encouraged and stabilised by the study of “the way the Lord has led us, and His teaching in our past history.”

The greatest problem of those years was finding adequate resources for effective research. Two of my guides at the time were Francis D. Nichol and LeRoy Edwin Froom, editors and authors based in Washington, D.C., whose oral discourses riveted my attention during their visits to Australia. R. A. Anderson’s guest lectures and his memorable book, The Shepherd Evangelist (1950) impacted my ministerial endeavours; the preaching of E. Lennard Minchin was an important stimulus for my spiritual life. Two Seminary Extension Schools (1957-8, 1965-6) intensified my engagement with Adventist heritage as I soaked up the lectures of (amongst others) Pastor Arthur L. White (Prophetic Guidance), Dr Edward Heppenstall (Law, Grace and the Covenants; Doctrine of the Sanctuary), Dr Desmond Ford (Biblical Eschatology), Dr Siegfried Horn (Biblical Archaeolgy).

At last, at Andrews University from 1970 to 1972, I delighted in access to the primary sources relating to Adventism generally and Ellen White’s life and writings particularly. The completion there of an M.A. in Systematic Theology and a Master of Divinity (Pastoral Ministry), building on earlier Seminary Extension Schools and other events, such as classes offered in Chicago by Dr Gottfried Oosterwal, made me confident in the integrity of Adventism yet aware of its maturing status. Since Andrews was not then accredited to offer doctoral studies, with the sage advice of the Seminary Dean, Dr W.G.C. Murdoch, I undertook a D.Min. (Biblical Studies, but including Clinical Pastoral Education) in Indianapolis at Christian Theological Seminary. So, by late 1973, I was back in Australia with a passion to evangelise an area of Sydney that had only one small Adventist congregation amongst a million people. However, after five days of residence in Sydney, I was appointed to Avondale College, the geographical location for my endeavours during the next eighteen years.

After a couple of years as a lecturer in the Department of Theology at Avondale, I was concurrently appointed curator (later the job title was changed to director) of the newly established Ellen G. White/Seventh-day Adventist Research Centre located on the Avondale campus but serving the Australasian Division (now called the South Pacific Division). This was a time of comparative peace in Australasian Adventism, following the tumult of the 1960s, despite new and vigorous debates that were escalating within the church. The issues raised in Spectrum from 1970, like the shock waves emanating from the Ronald L. Numbers volume Prophetess of Health (1976), were little known or felt in Australasia at the time, even though the approaches of such groups as the Concerned Brethren were eliciting a vigorous response from the Biblical Research Committee of which I was a member. However, by 1980, the researches of Numbers, Don McAdams, Jon Butler, Walter Rea, Ron Graybill, Desmond Ford and many others were becoming better known. During the early 1980s, I formed and tested the impression that my ministry and teaching, illumined by attendance at study conferences in Washington during 1978 and 1982, might best focus on the life and writings of Ellen White in the context of the history and thought of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. This focus persisted after my employment changed in 1984 to academic administration and later to chaplaincy and other roles.

Therefore, between 1980 and 2004, well over a hundred items that I wrote (brief reports, book reviews, occasional lectures, magazine and journal articles, book chapters, a thesis, a dissertation, a book and such) principally relate to Ellen White and her symbiotic relationship with the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

In another blog I will offer an overview of some of the documents I wrote between 1980 and 2004. Later, in yet another blog, I’ll address the period from 2005 to the present.

Arthur Patrick, 8 November 2011

Post 18, Poetry and Religion: Josef Greig, Henry Lawson, John Donne and More

Graeme Sharrock epitomises something that is so good about the Divinity School of the University of Chicago. Oh yes, he is passionate about “religion” in the widest sense. Or should that be faith? Or the “Divinity” that is implied in the name of “his” part of the University of Chicago? Or all of the above and much, much more?

For over a quarter-century Graeme has been a “people-helper” in Chicago, listening to human beings in distress and journeying with them in their search for meaning. But he is as omnivorous as the Divinity School: he is “into” literature, social science, photography, as well as theology, history, and poetry. Why mention Graeme Sharrock in a blog about Adventist Studies?

Because Graeme is well along in writing a PhD dissertation about Ellen White and her “testimonies.” How does this genre of writing resonate with American culture in the mid-nineteenth century? What form does it adopt and develop? To whom are the testimonies addressed? When I read his draft of a chapter on this theme for “The Ellen White Project” (see the earlier blog about that subject) I was thrilled by its insights. Now I hope that Graeme will let me read and review his dissertation on the testimonies, when it is complete.

But the real reason why I am hurrying off this blog on a glorious Spring morning is that in an e-mail just received from Graeme, he has alerted me (and others) to a website ( that makes available some of the poetry written by Dr A. Josef Greig, not long retired as a professor of Old Testament at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan.

Some of my readers will remember Joe as an insightful member of the Adventist Society for Religious Studies, as a writer of articles (not least in Spectrum), and as a teacher capable of thinking outside the square. During all the years that I have known Joe and cherished his biblical exegesis, I was unaware of his skill with poetry.

Anyway, I have just read Greig’s fourteen verses entitled “Day Break on the Jabbock: Talking to Myself.” It starts this way:

I am an old man now, beyond three score years 
and ten, if that counts for anything. Have I not 
entered the circle of the wise? I can take my hand 
off my mouth and speak. I have a history with God.
 The journey was first paternal, then stormy, 
at last seismic. The model that I first took 
for God was my earthly father. He was loving,
 dependable, fair, faithful, self-sacrificing, 
though not a professed believer; a difficult 
act for God to follow. I would not have been
 so disappointed had the roles been reversed.

The poem speaks to me because its author is a highly-skilled biblical scholar so, like the Book of Revelation, his verses are a mosaic that presents Scripture in a new and arresting way. There is a starkness about the lines that reminds one of Psalm 22, or the poetry of Dr John Knight of “Post Pressed” and universities in Queensland, Australia. Yet there is more. “Day Break on the Jabbock” refers to “The Latter Rain, “The Time of Trouble,” and numerous other terms known only to Adventists, or at least narrowly-defined by us.

Earlier this year I presented a sermon on the religious verse of Henry Lawson (1867-1922), an Australian balladist much loved by common people. Lawson’s life was an unmitigated disaster, but he could look into the souls of his fellows in ways that most others found impossible. Often Lawson is totally wrong theologically, but so “true” biblically. (Ever read Dr Gottfried Oosterwal on the significance of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ?) In his poem, “Saint Peter” Lawson declares:

When I reach the great head-station⎯Which is somewhere “off the track”⎯
I won’t want to talk with angels Who have never been Out Back;
They might bother me with offers Of a banjo⎯meanin’ well⎯
And a pair of wings to fly with, When I only want a spell.

Lawson’s desire to be understood is a powerful application of the biblical doctrine of the Incarnation. I admit a far greater depth in the sublime poetry of John Donne. There is, for instance, majestic meaning in his expression, “in his purple wrapped receive me Lord.” Or in his “A Hymn to God the Father.” We Adventists define the theology of such works-of-art as “Righteousness by Faith.”

So, thank God for Graeme Sharrock, Josef Greig, John Knight, Henry Lawson and Alexander Carpenter (who facilitated the posting of Greig’s poetry).

Arthur Patrick, 6 November 2011

Post 17, The Ordination of Women: Toward an Historical Perspective

With Adventist Review, Adventist Today and other official and unofficial news services reporting the recent General Conference and North American Division discussions about the role of women, we may need a tidy historical perspective. Thus I am posting this presentation that I made last year, in hope that it may provide useful background for the contemporary conversation.

F.D. Nichol contends that Seventh-day Adventism, as “a distinct religious body,” was born on the morning of 23 October 1844. If so, in 2011 we celebrated our 167th birthday. That is a long time for the church to fail to fully engage the spiritual gifts of the majority of the its membership in its life and mission. Put bluntly, of our 16 million members, about nine million are blocked from full participation in the affairs and witness of the church. We Adventists say only ordained persons are eligible for certain roles and, in the same breath, we acknowledge we do not officially ordain women as ministers.

On 28 June 2010, our lack of gender inclusiveness was expressed clearly during the Seventh Business Meeting of the Fifty-ninth General Conference session, by delegate, Jurrien den Hollander:

Mr Chairman, I appreciate the work of the Nomination Committee because it is a huge task to get all the work done. Yet with regard to the names that have been presented to us as a body, I have noticed something that worries me greatly. In past division officer groups that have been elected and approved by the body, there were few women. And now again I hear 16 names being mentioned, and it appears to me that 14 of the 16 persons are men.

I believe that in a church where 60 percent of the members are women, there should be a better representation of women in the leadership. This means, Mr Chairman, that if I should consider only this list, with 16 names, nine of them should be women. Therefore, Mr Chairman, I move to refer this list back to the Nominating Committee.

Jurrien den Hollander’s motion was lost but his concern is shared by large numbers of Adventists, especially those in several world divisions who asked (in vain) for the ordination of women to be an agenda item at the 2010 world session of the General Conference. On 29 June 2010, at the said session, an Adventist Today reporter noted that three women activists concerned with the issue of the ordination of women in the Seventh-day Adventist Church (SDA) briefly hung a banner over the wall of a lower level of the arena during a session designed for SDA clergy. Evidently the banner read “The Greatest Want of the World is the Want of Men Who Still Stand for Right and Equality in Adventist Ministry Even If Negatively Impacted.” It stayed up approximately eight minutes before it was taken down voluntarily when a delegate asked the group to “take it down.”

Those close to the group said the banner was intended to call attention to the refusal of the church’s leadership to permit the issue of women’s ordination to be brought up during the General Conference Session. They have also pointed out that while the denomination was cofounded by a woman, Ellen G. White in the 1840s, women are not acknowledged as eligible for the church’s formal authorisation for full ministerial service.

Elizabeth Lechleitner, reporting the world session for the Adventist News Network, stated:

The Seventh-day Adventist Church July 2 committed itself to further study the biblical theology behind the practice of ordination. The action followed a specific request for an official survey of the matter during the just-concluded General Conference session, the highest governing body of the denomination. Delegate Ray Hartwell, president of the Pennsylvania Conference, called for a church-conducted reexamination of ordination from the floor of the Georgia Dome during the session. In comments to session delegates July 2, world church general vice president Michael L. Ryan said the session Steering Committee is “committed” to bringing a comprehensive report on ordination to a church business meeting within the next five years. The report is expected to survey the biblical motivation behind the model of ordination. Ryan said adequate time is needed to deliver a thoughtful, well-researched report with input from each region.

Therefore, it is evident the church we love and serve has problems with the status and role of women that have plagued it for a very long time. Fifty-two years ago, at the marriage altar, my cherished wife revealed her attitude when she promised to “love and honour” me, but refused to permit inclusion of a promise to “obey” me. It is time for millions of women and men to similarly make public their convictions about the vexed issue of womens’ rightful place in our community of faith.

How May We Understand the History of the Problem?

Adventists started rather well, remembering as they did a contested but significant level of participation by women as heralds of “the Advent near” within Millerism, between 1831 and 1844. Their attitudes were helped by the ministry and witness of Ellen Gould Harmon White, best known as a writer, but also a prolific speaker in every form of Adventist gathering from 1844 until near the time of her death in 1915. Of countless events that deserve mention from those seventy years, we shall notice only three.

Uriah Smith, the longest-serving editor of the Second Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, wrote a telling statement about womens’ place in the church as early as 30 July 1861. Smith was clearly of similar mind to other pioneers like James White and J.N. Andrews.

The 1881 General Conference in session discussed with energy the role of women before it Resolved, that females possessing the necessary qualifications to fill that position, may, with perfect propriety, be set apart by ordination to the work of the Christian ministry.

Near the end of the nineteenth-century in Australia, ministers such as William Clarence White, Ellen White’s son and most important interpreter, ordained women as deaconesses in the Sydney church at Ashfield. These practices seemed to accord with the growing clarity of Ellen White’s insistence that the spiritual gifts of women should be recognised with just wages, prayer, and the laying on of hands.

It seems to me that we might profile 167 years of Adventism along the following lines:

1844-1915: cautious inclusion of women in the life and witness of the church.

1915-1970: progressive exclusion of women from the life and witness of the church. Perhaps the patterns of the period from Ellen White’s death until the 1970s are best explained by two powerful realities: Adventism’s retreat into Fundamentalism and Americas’s idealisation of female subservience.

1970 to 2010: commendable study about the status and role of women but the continued partial exclusion of women from the life and witness of the church. We noted above some of the instances that highlighted this reality at the 2010 General Conference session.

Our understanding will potentially be enriched by the proposed study of ordination that is now under way, not least by evidence that may bring a deepened conviction that ordination is the church’s recognition of God’s spiritual gifts poured upon his children. The initiative is Divine, the recognition is human. If we could disentangle our Adventist thinking and doing from twenty centuries during which apostolic succession and sacramentalism were so much cherished by the Christian church, perhaps we would better perceive our sacred responsibility to recognise that when God pours out spiritual gifts upon His people, they are not gender specific.


It is my humble but considered opinion that since the 1970s, Adventists have well explored almost every biblical, historical, theological and sociological fact about the ordination of women. One of the finest of these explorations is reported in the volume Women in Ministry: Biblical and Historical Perspectives. Our church remains essentially at the same point as it was when Jennifer Knight and Gwen Wilkinson edited “Perspectives of Women in the Church: All We’re Meant to Be,” reporting the Namaroo Conference Centre discussion of 20 April 1986. Seventh-day Adventism has well maintained many aspects of its reformist stance, to do with slavery, health and education, for instance. One of its pressing duties is to fulfil the promise of its heritage and the implications of Scripture by the full inclusion of women in its life and witness–by ordination.

Arthur Patrick, summary of a presentation at the College Church Educational Event on the ordination of women in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, co-sponsored by Sydney Adventist Forum, Ladies Chapel, Avondale College of Higher Education, 14 August 2010, edited and posted 5 November 2011