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Separate Worship for the Spirit?

Article by Anonymous Contributor, adopted and edited by Paul Chung

In a previous research paper, "What did Ellen White Say? A Framework for Studying the Words of Ellen White", I addressed the issue of stenographic transcriptions of sermons which are found within the Ellen White manuscripts and letters. By looking at 5 separate manuscripts of a single sermon Ellen White preached and noting the differences between all five reports it became clear that there are limitations in stenographic recordings and that it is impossible that these can be relied upon with absolute certainty to faithfully represent the words of Ellen White. The conclusion drawn from that detailed analysis was that the best we can ascertain from a manuscript that is derived from a stenographic transcription is that Ellen White said "something very like" what is written but not necessarily those exact words.

Also in that research paper I addressed some of the implications that this analysis had when it comes to analysing Ellen White's doctrine of God, Christ and the Holy Spirit. Two frequently relied upon statements from Ellen White which are actually derived from stenography are the "three holiest beings" manuscript (Ms95-1906.29) and the "Holy Spirit is as much a person as God is a person" manuscript (Ms66-1899.11; 2SAT 136.6). While I don't dispute that Ellen White said something like these words, they may not have been her exact words (for example, in a shorthand system which leaves out vowels, and where 'b' and 'p' are simply a matter of the length of a line, "beings" and "persons" could easily be mixed up). From Ellen White's own written principles we saw how her personally written words were to be preferred in clearing up any ambiguity that might exist in recorded audible sayings.

“And now to all who have a desire for truth I would say: Do not give credence to unauthenticated reports as to what Sister White has done or said or written. If you desire to know what the Lord has revealed through her, read her published works. Are there any points of interest concerning which she has not written, do not eagerly catch up and report rumors as to what she has said.” (Testimonies for the Church, Volume 5, p. 696)

Not just her published personally written works, but her unpublished personally written manuscripts, letters and diaries can be well trusted to best reflect her meaning:

“I am now looking over my diaries and copies of letters written for several years back, commencing before I went to Europe, before you were born. I have the most precious matter to reproduce and place before the people in testimony form. While I am able to do this work, the people must have these things to revive past history, that they may see that there is one straight chain of truth, without one heretical sentence, in that which I have written. This, I am instructed, is to be a living letter to all in regard to my faith.” (Letter 329a, 1905)

Since I wrote that paper, another stenographically recorded manuscript has gained attention relating to Ellen White's conception of God, Christ and the Holy Spirit. The most frequently quoted paragraph is as follows:

"Now a little point. As the saints in the kingdom of God are accepted in the beloved, they hear: “Come, ye blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” And then the golden harps are touched, and the music flows all through the heavenly host, and they fall down and worship the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. And then what? What next did I see? One meets another; and they say, as they fall right upon their necks with their faces shining with the glory of God, 'It was you, it was you that brought the truth to me, and I would not hear it at first, but, O I am so glad.' Now that will be acted all through the heavenly courts, thanksgiving and praise to God for those that have been the means of winning others to the truth, that they should come and have an interest for them, and then they are united among the saved. O what a meeting! what a meeting!" (Ms 139, 1906)

There have generally been two different approaches to this manuscript which is purportedly from a sermon given on July 24, 1906 which was a Tuesday. Trinitarians have gleefully presented it as evidence that the Holy Spirit is to receive distinct and separate worship in an attempt to trounce antitrinitarian or nontrinitarian claims. Antitrinitarians, such as Nader Mansour, have chosen to dismiss the statement as completely unreliable. However, as was proved in the extensive analysis of the five manuscripts of the same sermon from 1901, while transcriptions of stenographic recordings are not as reliable as the words that Ellen White penned herself or oversaw the editing of in her published works, they should still be acknowledge that Ellen White said SOMETHING LIKE what is recorded. Thus the triotarian position is to honestly look at this manuscript in terms of its internal context and these words in light of the wider use by Ellen White.

To begin with, Ellen White was clearly in Oakland at this time. In Letter 248, 1906 to Brother and Sister Kress, Ellen White writes that "I am in attendance at the Oakland camp-meeting. The meeting has been in session for several days. I have spoken several times in the large tent, which was crowded with interested hearers. I spoke on Friday and on Sabbath to a very densely packed tentful of people" (Lt 248, 1906). One sermon from Wednesday the 25th was printed in the Review and Herald of September 27 later this year besides the ones Ellen White mentioned as having preached on the earlier Friday and Saturday. The "Brother Kellogg" that Ellen White mentions at the end of this letter appears to be Brother Henry W. Kellogg, not Dr John H. Kellogg who had by this stage apostasied. From these facts we can accept that this does reflect an authentic sermon while allowing for perhaps a degree of imprecision of the stenographic and transcription processes.

At first glance, these words that are highlighted by some may appear to support the modern contention that Ellen White was either an orthodox or tritheistic trinitarian. However, they fit perfectly with her wider conception of God, Christ and the Holy Spirit as we shall see.

For Ellen White, God the Father is the supreme Ancient of Days. In one place she write that, "Jehovah, the eternal, self-existent, uncreated One, Himself the Source and Sustainer of all, is alone entitled to supreme reverence and worship" (PP 305). She also wrote that "Jehovah, our Father, and His Son Jesus Christ are alone to be exalted" (Ms 11, 1898). So to Ellen White, God the Father was deserving of SUPREME reverence and worship while Christ His Son was equally worthy of being exalted bacause "God has exalted Christ above every name that is named" (ST Dec 17, 1902). There is no similar admonition to worship or exalt any other individual other than the Father and Son besides what might be asserted from the statement under consideration which is why it bears further scrutiny.

Ellen White was also clear from the earliest portion of her visionary ministry that the Father and Son have corporeal forms. In her first ever solo book she wrote, "I saw a throne, and on it sat the Father and the Son. I gazed on Jesus’ countenance and admired his lovely person. The Father's person I could not behold, for a cloud of glorious light covered him. I asked Jesus if his Father had a form like himself. He said he had, but I could not behold it, for said he, if you should once behold the glory of his person you would cease to exist" (ExV 43). Later in the same book she wrote, "I have often seen the lovely Jesus, that he is a person. I asked him if his Father was a person, and had a form like himself. Said Jesus. 'I am in the express image of my Father's Person'" (ExV 64). Ellen White said that "In the beginning, man was created in the likeness of God, not only in character, but in form and feature" (GC 644-645) and again "Man was to bear God's image, both in outward resemblance and in character. Christ alone is 'the express image' (Hebrews 1:3) of the Father; but man was formed in the likeness of God" (PP 45) and spoke of Adam as having "his mind and body created in God's own similitude" (YI January 31, 1901).

So it is clear that Ellen White saw God and Christ as consisting of beings with forms akin to what humanity were created with. Thus she said that "Christ is one with the Father, but Christ and God are two distinct personages" (RH June 1, 1905) and "two distinct personalities" (Ms 145, 1905). However, the Holy Spirit is not said to have a form. In fact, she says "This representative would not appear in human form, but by faith would be seen and recognized by all who should believe in Christ" (RH, October 26, 1897). From this we see that while there would be the form of the Father and Son to fall down and worship before, the Spirit has no such form.

So what do we make of Ellen White's language. Well, earlier in the same sermon, she had been commenting on Matthew 28:19, saying:

"When you baptize them, and you see that they are in error in any respect, do you, any one of you that feel that you have a message from God, go to them kindly, and tell them, between them and you alone, where their trouble is, and where their difficulties will come in unless they change the course of their action? This is the work that is to rest upon us. And then what? Why, it says, 'Baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.' Three personalities; and these three personalities are the pledged power from God that His people shall have, if they have been baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Now there is no excuse for souls to be left in ignorance and weakness if they will be gospel believers, if they will carry out these principles, and know that the three great Worthies, the Powers in heaven, are pledged to the church of God that will work in harmony with Christ’s teachings." (Ms 139, 1906)

It might be assumed that Ellen White is saying that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are three individuals, however whenever she writes of these three together, almost exclusively in her commentaries upon Matthew 28:19, she is speaking in terms of divine ACTIVITY. Here she says that "these three personalities are the pledged power from God". To her, Matthew 28:19 did not signify three indivuals, but was a "threefold name... powers infinite and omniscient" (Ms 27a, 1900), "the great threefold power" (Ms 11, 1901) and wrote that "All heaven is represented by these three in covenant relation with the new life" (Ms 45, 1904). Ellen White was not saying that these were three individuals to be worshiped, but that worship would encompass praise for the work of this threefold power. In one instance, instead of saying "Father, Son and Holy Spirit", she writes "The heavenly powers have pledged themselves to minister to human agents to make the name of God and of Christ and of the Holy Spirit their living efficiency, working and energizing the sanctified man, to make this name above every other name. All the treasures of heaven are under obligation to do for man infinitely more than human beings can comprehend by multiplying threefold the human with the heavenly agencies" (Ms 45, 1904).

In the manuscript under consideration, Ellen White focuses in on Who it is that embodies this threefold "pledged power from God":

"Christ is our power of efficiency. Work under Christ, controlled by His Holy Spirit, and there will be efficiency and power. In your perplexity to understand the way to take up the work, you can say as did the disciples, 'Lord, to whom shall we go but unto Thee? Thou hast the words of eternal life. We have advanced truth' (Ms 139, 1906).

Ellen White was clear that the Holy Spirit was the activity of God and Christ apart from where They are bodily located. At times she intimately connected the Holy Spirit to Christ, saying "We want the Holy Spirit, which is Jesus Christ" (Lt 66, 1894) and calling it "the omnipresence of the Spirit of Christ, called the Comforter" (Lt 7, 1891) and so it is clear that she believed that it is "His personality, though unseen, save by the eye of faith" (Lt 306, 1906). While she was clear that the Holy Spirit as a separate individual did not have a form like humans do, she believed that it was "the Spirit of all truth manifest in the flesh-the divine Son of God" (Ms 125, 1906). Thus the Spirit was not a distinct individual to receive worship, but it is the working of God and Christ here on earth and throughout all the universe.

Ellen White believed that "It is working together with Christ that is true worship" (Ms 47, 1912) and that "In order to serve Him aright, we must be born of the divine Spirit. This will lead to watchfulness, will purify the heart and renew the mind, and give us a new capacity for knowing and loving God. It will give us willing obedience to all His requirements. This is true worship" (Ms 37, 1909). She wrote that "The character of Christ must become your character, His Spirit, your spirit" (Lt 78, 1907). Thus we see that while there is no separate individual worship of the Spirit, worship is impossible without the Spirit - Christ's omnipresence - dwelling in us.

So we see that the statement under consideration, taken at face value and in light of the wider corpus of Ellen White's writings, is not enough to reflect the idea of either an orthodox or trtheistic trinitarian model but rather fits with in the triotarian understanding of Ellen White where there is one sovereign God, two divine personages and three economic personalities. Ellen White and the other pioneers who believed this unanimously had no difficulty in singing the doxology. Ellen White even quoted it and referenced it on various occasions:

"Let cheerful freewill-offerings be brought to the Lord, let us consecrate to Him all that we are, and all that we have, and then may we all unite to swell the songs,-- 'Praise God, from whom all blessings flow; Praise him, all creatures here below; Praise him above, ye heavenly host; Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.'" (RH, January 4, 1881)

"If any one comes to you and begins to tell you of the faults of another, if you cannot stop that voice in any other way, lift your voice and sing the doxology." (Ms 4, 1885)

"As I ceased speaking, Brother Hoskins started the doxology, and the whole congregation arose and with clear voice sang the praise of God. O, how musical were these words! It was indeed the expression of the heart poured forth in thanksgiving to God. I never listened to words of song more fitted to the occasion and that came forth from human lips with more earnestness and power. I know that many saw the light of truth as they had never seen it before." (Ms 2, 1892)

"As I ceased speaking Brother Hoskins started the doxology, and the whole congregation rose to their feet and poured out their voice in 'Praise God from whom all blessing flow, Praise Him all creatures here below, Praise Him above ye heavenly host, Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.' It seemed a fitting response. I never listened to words in sacred song that came forth with more earnestness and power. I know that many were fed with rich morsels from the treasury of God." (Ms 39, 1892)

"We knew that Christ and the angels were with us. At the close, the voices of all in that large congregation pealed forth in singing the doxology, and we know that God and the angels rejoiced." (Lt 149, 1900)

This doxology was featured in many of the songbooks and hymnals of the early Seventh-day Adventists even though they rejected the speculative, non-Biblical conceptions of trinitarianism. Some of the earliest hymnals to contain it include song 53 in James White's "Hymns, for God's Peculiar People that Keep the Commandments of God, and the Faith of Jesus" (1849) and song 256 of the second official church hymnal, release in 1886, "The Seventh-day Adventist Hymn and Tune Book" compiled by a committee including G. I. Butler, Uriah Smith and J. H. Waggoner. It was also included in several songbooks released by James Edson White such as "Song Anchor: A Choice Collection of Favorites for Sabbath School and Praise Service" (1878), "Better than Pearls: Sacred Songs Expressly Adapted for Gospel Meetings" (1881), "Joyful Greeting: For the Sabbath-School" (1886). Another early hymnal to include the tune was song 119 in "Gems of Song: A Collection of Familiar Hymns for Religious Meetings" (1870).

Coming back to the question of the worship of the Holy Spirit, Uriah Smith had a balanced triotarian approach. In responding to a question in 1896 he wrote:

"Do the Scriptures warrant the praise or worship of the Holy Spirit? If not, does not the last line of the doxology contain an unscriptural sentiment?" - D. H. "Answer.--- We know of no place in the Bible where we are commanded to worship the Holy Spirit, as was commanded in the case of Christ (Heb. 1:6), or where we find an example of the worship of the Holy Spirit, as in the case of Christ. Luke 21:52. Yet in the formula for baptism, the name 'Holy Ghost,' or 'Holy Spirit,' is associated with that of the Father and the Son. And if the name can be thus used, why could it not properly stand as a part of the same trinity in the hymn of praise, 'Praise God from Whom all Blessing Flow?'" (Uriah Smith, Review and Herald, October 27, 1896)

To end on a personal testimony, when I first searched out the Biblical understanding of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, I swung to extremes, one of those was a sense of self-righteous refusal to stand for the doxology. That is, until I was rebuked by the Spirit when I read Ellen White's glowing endorsements of the same hymn. We should ever seek for balance and to fully harmonise ALL that God has revealed, not simply choosing some statements and ignoring or sidelining others. Let us seek for the Biblical understanding of the heavenly trio as held by Ellen White and her peers.