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The Great Visions of Ellen G. White

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    What Unity Does Not Mean

    Ellen White was very concerned that her hearers and readers not draw incorrect conclusions from her repeated calls to Christian unity within the church. There were at least three things that unity did not mean and she spelled them out very clearly. For example:GVEGW 141.2

    1. Unity does not mean the total suspension of a Christian’s critical faculties of the mind. While it is eminently true that “this work is so important” that we cannot engage in criticism of others, 53Ms 148, 1899; in Manuscript Releases 1:371. yet it is also true that there is a genuine, legitimate place for constructive criticism in the Christian walk.GVEGW 141.3

    Christians may—indeed, should—criticize:GVEGW 141.4

    a. Themselves. She frequently called Seventh-day Adventists to the task of arising and “closely” criticizing themselves, 54Manuscript Releases 1:371; cf. Manuscript Releases 13:76; Manuscript Releases 19:206. particularly the various facets of the condition of one’s spiritual health: temper, disposition, thoughts, words, inclinations, purposes, and deeds. 55Selected Messages 1:89.GVEGW 141.5

    b. Ideas. In Ellen White’s day, as also in ours, many thoughts were published by Adventist writers that were, simply, wrong and incorrect. (And sometimes these errors of fact and idea even appeared in Seventh-day Adventist publications!) And while the word “discrimination” has come generally to have negative connotations in our day, yet we must not overlook the fact that a “discriminating” mind—one that distinguishes and differentiates between truth and error, right and wrong—is a very important, necessary acquirement.GVEGW 141.6

    On the heels of two major publishing debacles in the church—(1) the 10-part series of articles in the Review and Herald on inspiration/revelation in 1884, in which the then-General Conference president, George I. Butler, posited the ideas of differences of degrees in inspiration (Mrs. White would later come close to sarcasm when she refuted it: “I was shown that the Lord did not inspire the articles on inspiration ..., neither did He approve their endorsement before our youth in the college”); 56Selected Messages 1:23. and (2) the pantheism flap created by Dr. John Harvey Kellogg’s book The Living Temple, which deceived even top leaders in the church (and which Mrs. White characterized as the alpha of apostasy) 57Selected Messages 1:197, 200, 203.—Mrs. White wrote:GVEGW 141.7

    “If ever there was a time when the writings of everyone connected with our work should be closely criticized, it is now. The Lord has made known to me that His Word is to be studied, and as no such representations as those made in Living Temple are made in the Word, we are to reject them.” 58Counsels to Writers and Editors, 158.GVEGW 142.1

    c. Human Plans. Humans, including Christians, are not infallible; and Christian leaders, with the best of intentions, often make serious mistakes in their planning. While we are to preserve unity in every plan,” 59Testimonies for the Church 6:215. yet that unity is not to be the product of silence on the part of planning committees when unwise programs are proposed.GVEGW 142.2

    “In the multitude of counsellors there is safety” (Proverbs 11:14; cf. Proverbs 24:6). (Maybe not always wisdom—but certainly “safety”!)GVEGW 142.3

    In a testimony entitled “Our College” and addressed to the leaders of Battle Creek College in 1882, Mrs. White gave this pointed counsel:GVEGW 142.4

    “‘Counsel together’ is the message which has been again and again repeated to me by the angel of God. By influencing one man’s judgment, Satan may endeavor to control matters to suit himself. He may succeed in misleading the minds of two persons; but, when several consult together, there is more safety. Every plan will be more closely criticized; every advance move more carefully studied. Hence there will be less danger of precipitate, ill-advised moves, which would bring confusion, perplexity, and defeat. In union there is strength. In division there is weakness and defeat.” 60Testimonies for the Church 5:30. (Italics supplied.)GVEGW 142.5

    2. Unity does not mean uniformity. Ellen White never envisaged that her call to unity would result in the production of a group of carbon-copy Seventh-day Adventists, all thinking exactly alike on all points, and speaking exactly the same words! 61Counsels to Writers and Editors, 82.GVEGW 142.6

    Mrs. White often spoke of an elusive yet important quality of human personality and character that she characterized as “individuality.” And she made it clear that true unity does not destroy a person’s individuality 62Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers, 29, 30.—nor should it!GVEGW 142.7

    “Unity in diversity” was a favorite motto, 63The S.D.A. Bible Commentary 5:1148; The S.D.A. Bible Commentary 6:1083, 1090. and its importance and value were often stressed. 64Selected Messages 1:21, 22. Indeed, “unity in diversity” is one of the hallmark characteristics of animate and inanimate nature 65The S.D.A. Bible Commentary 5:1143.—no two snowflakes appear exactly the same under the microscope, and no human fingerprint ever matches that of another.GVEGW 142.8

    True unity does not destroy the personality of the Father and the Son, nor that of Christ and His followers. 66The S.D.A. Bible Commentary 5:1148; The Ministry of Healing, 422.GVEGW 143.1

    On this subject Mrs. White wrote:GVEGW 143.2

    “Let each worker remember that he has an individuality of his own, and this individuality is not to be submerged in any other human being. That individuality is to be sanctified, purified, refined, but it is not to be lost in the individuality of someone else.” 67The General Conference Bulletin, 1901, 462; cf. Mind, Character, and Personality 2:423.GVEGW 143.3

    “No human being is to be the shadow of another human being. God’s servants are to labor together in a unity that blends mind with mind.” 68Letter 44, 1903, p. 2; cited in Mind, Character, and Personality 2:429.GVEGW 143.4

    In a Review and Herald article in 1906 Mrs. White quoted the words of Christ on this subject. He said, she reported, “with earnest solemnity“: “The church is made up of many minds, each of whom has an individuality. I gave My life in order that men and women, by divine grace, might blend in revealing a perfect pattern of My character, while at the same time retaining their individuality. No one has the right to disparage the individuality of any other human mind by uttering words of criticism or faultfinding and condemnation.” 69The Review and Herald, September 20, 1906; cf. Testimonies for the Church 8:212.GVEGW 143.5

    And finally: “No person can sink his individuality in that of another, but we are all, as individuals, to be grafted into the one parent stock [Christ], and there is to be unity in diversity.” 70Mind, Character, and Personality 2:426.GVEGW 143.6

    3. Unity does not mean silence against wrongdoing by church leaders. Church workers or members are not to be “doormats,” nor silently to “roll over and play dead,” when wrongs are perpetrated in the church. Christian unity never covers this kind of silence, which can be interpreted as acquiescence or cowardice. (Someone once said with as much truth as irony, “Silence isn’t always golden; sometimes it’s only yellow!”)GVEGW 143.7

    Sometime around 1909 there was in one of our conferences a serious problem that Ellen White met with her characteristic forth-rightness. Apparently a number of members had lost confidence in the leadership of the field, and decided to withhold their tithe as an act of silent protest.GVEGW 143.8

    “But will you rob God because you think the management of the work is not right?” she inquired rhetorically. Then she laid down a four-point rule for the amelioration and redress of such difficulties:GVEGW 143.9

    “Make your complaint [1] plainly and [2] openly, [3] in the right spirit, [4] to the proper ones. Send in your petitions for things to be adjusted and set in order; but do not withdraw from the work of God, and prove unfaithful, because others are not doing right.” 71Testimonies for the Church 9:249.GVEGW 143.10

    Even church leaders!GVEGW 144.1

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