Authoritative or Pastoral?
Many years ago in Australia, the top preachers were Des Ford and George Burnside. They were in demand at camp meetings and much loved by all.
In the early days we did not know there was anything wrong with Dr Ford’s teaching, but later began to realise there were subtle differences in his message of justification by faith. As time went on, subtle comments were made relating to the sanctuary and Ellen White’s prophetic gift. Of course Glacier View took place and it all came out in the open.
However, in the more recent years before Glacier View, when he was gaining followers in Australia, much debate took place between those who accepted Ford’s teachings and those who did not. Many were medical doctors. In our discussion, if anyone mentioned the Spirit of Prophecy as evidence in any way, the accusation came back, ‘You are making her into a pope.’ Some would say instead, ‘That’s circular reasoning.’ In other words, if you did not believe the Ford slant, you were wrong.
At this time, one of the youth speakers gave some very important advice. He mentioned the problem, without giving names, and suggested that if we do not understand the Bible after having prayerfully compared Scripture with Scripture, the next place to go was Sister White’s writings. He said, ‘I would rather go to the prophet than accept the ideas of men.’ That counsel was worth remembering.
Of course Dr Ford had an answer for that -- he changed the prophet’s status from an authoritative messenger of the Lord to one who gave pastoral counsel. This was then used as a weapon for those who held to the prophetic gift.
Although the church did not change its stand on the sanctuary, the investigative judgment, or the prophet, Dr Ford’s belief that Ellen White is pastoral has been accepted by many. However, if the subject studied is prophecy, there is no problem in asking, ‘What does the prophet say?’ But when studying the Trinity doctrine, her writings are not seen as authoritative, but pastoral. In other words, we can learn from what she has written, but not take her literally.
For example, Proverbs 8.
V22-25.30. “The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was. When there were no depths, I was brought forth; when there were no fountains abounding with water. Before the mountains were settled, before the hills was I brought forth… Then I was by him, as one brought up with him: and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him.”
This chapter begins speaking about wisdom, as do a number of the early chapters in Proverbs. At verse 22, there is a change. The words appear to imply a person, rather than wisdom. If this is commented on, the answer will often be, ‘Oh, it’s a metaphor for wisdom.’ Or ‘Wisdom is being personified.’
We can say it is a metaphor, but what did the prophet say?
In the first chapter in Patriarchs and Prophets, Sister White wrote, “Christ, the Word, the only begotten of God, was one with the eternal Father -- one in nature, in character, in purpose -- the only being that could enter into all the counsels and purposes of God… And the Son of God declares concerning Himself: “The Lord possessed Me in the beginning of His way, before His works of old. I was set up from everlasting. . . . When He appointed the foundations of the earth: then I was by Him, as one brought up with Him: and I was daily His delight, rejoicing always before Him.”Patriarchs and Prophets 34. TMKH 11. This is not a King James translation, but the Revised Version.
You can see that Ellen White has quoted from Proverbs 8, and she says specifically that “the Son of God declares concerning Himself.”
Did Ellen White believe Proverbs 8 was simply a metaphor for wisdom?
We can choose to continue believing Proverbs 8:22-30 is metaphoric, but we cannot at the same time accept the prophet as authoritative. Instead we must make her pastoral. Unfortunately, we also forsake common sense. She either meant what she said, or she meant nothing at all.
The same chapter in proverbs has been used a number of times by the prophet, all saying the same thing.
“Through Solomon Christ declared, ‘The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old. . . . When he gave to the sea his decree, that the waters should not pass his commandment: when he appointed the foundations of the earth: then I was by him, as one brought up with him: and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him’." Lift Him Up 17. TA 23.
“In speaking of his pre-existence, Christ carries the mind back through dateless ages. He assures us that there never was a time when He was not in close fellowship with the eternal God. He to whose voice the Jews were then listening had been with God as one brought up with Him.” Signs of the Times. Aug. 29. 1900. 7A BC 440. TA 24.
"The Lord possessed Me in the beginning of His way, before His works of old," Christ says. ‘When He gave to the sea His decree, that the waters should not pass His commandment; when He appointed the foundations of the earth; then I was by Him, as one brought up with Him; and I was daily His delight, rejoicing always before Him.’ But the only-begotten Son of God humbled Himself to come to this earth. He took the sinner's place; the guiltless suffered for the guilty. This was the hiding of His glory. ‘Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself likewise took part of the same; that through death He might destroy him that had the power of death’." Signs of the Times. Feb 22. 1899 par. 5.
If we believe the prophet’s reference to Christ being the Son of God in this chapter is a metaphor, we must make all other references metaphoric too -- references to Lucifer being jealous of the Son’s position in heaven; the Father’s elevation of His Son before the angelic host; the rebellion of Lucifer against God’s Son and determination to take the Son’s position; and finally having to face the Son in battle and be cast out of heaven. If one is a metaphor, they must all be metaphors. And if all are, the whole chapter is meaningless.
Of course metaphors are not wrong. The Bibles uses many, but we make a big mistake when we make metaphorical something that is designed to be literal.
Obviously Sister White believed what she wrote. Don't you think we should follow her example?