The very beginning of the great apostasy was in seeking to supplement the authority of God by that of the church. Rome began by enjoining what God had not forbidden, and she ended by forbidding what He had explicitly enjoined. Many earnestly desired to return to the purity and simplicity which characterized the primitive church GC 289.2 – GC 290.1
From the Lifetime and Experience of Ellen G. WhiteDG 248A paper presented at the ministerial meeting at the 1990 General Conference session. Prepared by the White Estate staff.
- A resolution to ordain women was discussed at the General Conference of 1881. No action was taken. The minutes include the following lines:
“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.
“This was discussed by J. O. Corliss, A. C. Bourdeau, E. R. Jones, D. H. Lamson, W. H. Littlejohn, A. S. Hutchins, D. M. Canright, and J. N. Loughborough, and referred to the General Conference Committee.”—The Review and Herald, December 20, 1881.
Ellen White did not attend the General Conference of 1881. Her husband died on August 6 of that year. Two weeks after his death she left Battle Creek, bound for California. She did not return to Michigan until August of 1883.
- For many years Ellen White was voted ministerial credentials by the Michigan conference (see E.G. The Review and Herald, September 10, 1872) and then later by the General Conference. However, she was never ordained by human hands, nor did she ever perform a wedding, organize a church, or conduct a baptism.
- In 1895 Ellen White recommended the ordination of women who would give themselves to a deaconess-type of work:
“Women who are willing to consecrate some of their time to the service of the Lord should be appointed to visit the sick, look after the young, and minister to the necessities of the poor. They should be set apart to this work by prayer and laying on of hands. In some cases they will need to counsel with the church officers or the minister; but if they are devoted women, maintaining a vital connection with God, they will be a power for good in the church. This is another means of strengthening and building up the church.”—The Review and Herald, July 9, 1895.
A number of women were ordained as deaconesses during Ellen White’s Australian ministry. On August 10, 1895, the nominating committee at the Ashfield church in Sydney rendered its report, which was approved. The clerk’s minutes for that date state: “Immediately following the election, the officers were called to the front where pastors Corliss and McCullagh set apart the elder, deacons, and deaconesses by prayer and the laying on of hands.”
Several years later, in the same church, W. C. White officiated at the ordination of the church officers. The minutes of the Ashfield church for January 7, 1900, state: “The previous Sabbath officers had been nominated and accepted for the current year, and today Elder White ordained and laid hands on the elders, deacon, and deaconesses.—AR, January 16, 1986.
- Women “licensed to preach” by the Seventh-day Adventist Church during Ellen White’s lifetime included the following:
1878 Anna Fulton Minnesota Ellen S. Lane Michigan Julia Owen Kentucky-Tennessee 1879 Libbie Collins Minnesota Hattie Enoch Kansas Libbie Fulton Minnesota Lizzie Post Minnesota 1880 Anna Johnson Minnesota 1881 Ida W. Ballenger Illinois Helen L. Morse Illinois 1884 Ruie Hill Kansas 1886 Ida W. Hibben Illinois 1887 Mrs. S. E. Pierce Vermont 1893 Flora Plummer Iowa 1894 Margaret Caro New Zealand 1895 Mrs. S. A. Lindsay New York 1898 Sarepta Irish Henry Gen. Conf. Lulu Wightman New York 1899 Edith Bartlett British Conf. 1900 Hetty Haskell Gen. Conf. Mina Robinson British Conf. 1901 Carrie V. Hansen Utah Emma Hawkins Iowa Mrs. E. R. Williams Michigan 1902 Mrs. S. N. Haskell Greater NY Minnie Sype Oklahoma 1904 Alma Bjugg Finland Mission Mrs. J. E. Bond Arizona Bertha E. Jorgensen South Dakota 1910 Pearl Field Nebraska Mrs. Ura Spring Nebraska —General Conference Archives and SDA Yearbooks
Some of the women listed above were employed by the church. Others, such as Margaret Caro, who was a dentist, were self-supporting.
- Ellen White made three statements which are sometimes construed as evidence that she supported the concept of women as ordained gospel ministers.
In 1898 she declared that “there are women who should labor in the gospel ministry” (Evangelism, 472). The context of this statement seems to indicate that she is speaking of ministers’ wives. She wrote:
“Letters have come to me from several, asking my advice upon the question, Should ministers’ wives adopt infant children? Would I advise them to do this kind of work. To some who were regarding this matter favorably, I answered, No; God would have you help your husband in his work. The Lord has not given you children of your own; His wisdom is not to be questioned. He knows what is best. Consecrate your powers to God as a Christian worker. You can help your husband in many ways….
- Awake, awake, Deborah: awake, awake, utter a song: arise, Barak, and lead thy captivity captive, thou son of Abinoam.Judges:5:12
“There are women who should labor in the gospel ministry. In many respects they would do more good than the ministers who neglect to visit the flock of God. Husband and wife may unite in this work, and when it is possible, they should. The way is open for consecrated women. But the enemy would be pleased to have the women whom God could use to help hundreds binding up their time and strength on one helpless little mortal that requires constant care and attention.”—Manuscript Releases 5:325, 326.
In the year 1900 Ellen White published Testimonies , Volume 6, which includes a section titled “The Canvasser a Gospel Worker.” Here the author states:
“All who desire an opportunity for true ministry, and who will give themselves unreservedly to God, will find in the canvassing work opportunities to speak upon many things pertaining to the future, immortal life. The experience thus gained will be of the greatest value to those who are fitting themselves for the ministry. It is the accompaniment of the Holy Spirit of God that prepares workers, both men and women, to become pastors to the flock of God.”—Testimonies for the Church 6:322.
Finally, in September 1903 Ellen White wrote:
“The Lord calls upon those connected with our sanitariums, publishing houses, and schools to teach the youth to do evangelistic work. Our time and energy must not be so largely employed in establishing sanitariums, food stores, and restaurants that other lines of work will be neglected. Young men and young women who should be engaged in the ministry, in Bible work, and in the canvassing work should not be bound down to mechanical employment.
- And the next day we that were of Paul’s company departed, and came unto Caesarea: and we entered into the house of Philip the evangelist, which was one of the seven; and abode with him. And the same man had four daughters, virgins, which did prophesy.Acts:21:8-9
“The youth should be encouraged to attend our training schools for Christian workers, which should become more and more like the schools of the prophets. These institutions have been established by the Lord, and if they are conducted in harmony with His purpose, the youth sent to them will quickly be prepared to engage in various lines of missionary work. Some will be trained to enter the field as missionary nurses, some as canvassers, and some as gospel ministers.”—Testimonies for the Church 8:229, 230.
- Ellen White made two statements about her own call to serve the Lord as his messenger. She declared:
“At the age of 78 I am still toiling. We are all in the hands of the Lord. I trust in Him; for I know that He will never leave nor forsake those who put their trust in Him. I have committed myself to His keeping.
“And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry.”—The Review and Herald, July 26, 1906.
“In the city of Portland the Lord ordained me as His messenger, and here my first labors were given to the cause of present truth.”—The Review and Herald, May 18, 1911.
It will be recalled that Ellen White was given her first vision in December 1844, in Portland, Maine. Shortly thereafter she was prompted by the Lord to tell others what she had seen.
- Ellen White did not concern herself with women’s rights movements. When she was urged to join others in the crusade for women’s suffrage, she declined the invitation. She wrote to her husband:
“I called upon Mrs. Graves. She had a burden upon her mind and ever since she knew I was at home she desired to see me. She said she felt that she must talk out her feelings to me. She is desirous that women’s suffrage should be looked into by me. She says women ought to vote, and she related many things of a startling character which were legalized in France and St. Louis, and an effort was made to carry them out in Chicago this year, but the effort failed. Houses of ill fame are legalized. Women who travel alone through those cities, if they are the least suspicious of them, are taken up by the authorities and their cases are investigated. If they are diseased they are placed in the care of the doctors and cured. Then they are fit for the visits of men and are placed in the legalized home for men to satisfy their lusts upon. No examination is made of the men, and where this law is carried into effect the crime and immorality resemble the condition of the world which existed previous to the flood.
“Mrs. Graves viewed the matter as I do in regard to the increase of crime and demoralization of society. She says women must vote if this law is to be withstood. We had a long talk in regard to temperance. I told her that my mind was unprepared for any such matter as women voting. She had been thinking and dwelling upon these things and her mind was ripe upon them, while my work was of another character. We were doing upon the point of temperance what no other class of people in the world were. We were as much in favor of a pledge against tobacco as liquor.”—Manuscript Releases 10:69.
- It is likely that Ellen White did not suggest at any time that the Seventh-day Adventist Church should commence the practice of ordaining women to the gospel ministry. Her secretary, C. C. Crisler, says that she was very cautious on this point. Here is the correspondence relating to this question:
“March 12, 1916
“Mr. Clarence Crisler, Sanitarium California
“Will you please inform me in regard to the setting apart of women who can give some time to missionary work, by laying on hands in prayer, found in Review and Herald , back in the early part of the nineties, probably back in about 1892 or 1893, from the pen of Sister White.
“The reason I ask for this, I was in a recent meeting where Elder Andross set aside women by the laying on of hands, and when I asked him for the authority for so doing, he referred me to you, and as I have been a Bible worker for a number of years and have recently been granted a ministerial license, I want this information.
“Please answer at once, as I want to hear from you before I go to the Southwestern Union Conference, which convenes April 7. Please send me two or three copies of her statement, as the president of our conference wants one.”—Mrs. L. E. Cox, 134 Agarita Avenue, San Antonio, Texas.
“March 22, 1916
“Mrs. L. E. Cox, San Antonio, Texas
“I have your letter of the twelfth, making inquiry regarding the ordination of women who give some time to missionary work—particularly to some statement which you believe to be found in a Review early in the nineties, from the pen of Mrs. Ellen G. White.
“As this query will require some study on my part, and searching, and as I must go to Mountain View in the morning for a few days, I am under the necessity of asking that you excuse me from answering for a few days. Upon my return, early next week, I will endeavor to send you a reply, accompanying same, if possible, with the extracts called for. However, I might say that I have not understood these extracts as teaching positively the ordination of women as ministers of the gospel. I have supposed, rather, that they refer primarily to the ordination of God-fearing women as deaconesses in local churches. But of this I will speak more fully when I write again.
“I hope to write you about the twenty-eighth, and will address you as above. If you are leaving San Antonio for other parts, it would be well for you to leave a forwarding order, so mail addressed as above will reach you in due time at the Union Conference.”—Clarence Crisler.
“June 16, 1916
“Mrs. L. E. Cox
“In my answer under date of March 22, I was unable to forward you copy of the Review article called for, but ventured to say, ‘I have not understood these extracts as teaching positively the ordination of women as ministers of the gospel. I have supposed, rather, that they refer primarily to the ordination of God-fearing women as deaconesses in local churches.’
“Since writing the above, I have found the article in question and have had same copied. Enclosed find a copy of this article. The Review and Herald, July 9, 1895. I am also forwarding a copy to your local conference president, Elder E. L. Neff, and to the president of your union, Elder J. W. Christian, that they may know what I am sending to you.
“While I do not make it a part of my work to presume to interpret that which has been written, yet I may be pardoned for expressing as my conviction the thought that this article published in the Review does not refer to the ordination of women as ministers of the gospel, but rather touches upon the question of setting apart, for special duties in local churches, God-fearing women in such churches where circumstances call for such action.
“And may I add that Sister White, personally, was very careful about expressing herself in any wise as to the advisability of ordaining women as gospel ministers. She has often spoken of the perils that such general practice would expose the church to by a gainsaying world; but as yet I have never seen from her pen any statement that would seem to encourage the formal and official ordination of women to the gospel ministry, to public labor such as is ordinarily expected of an ordained minister.
“This is not suggesting, much less saying, that no women are fitted for such public labor, and that none should ever be ordained; it is simply saying that so far as my knowledge extends, Sister White never encouraged church officials to depart from the general customs of the church in those matters.”—C. C. Crisler. DG 248 – DG 255.3
In the divine plan of education as adapted to man’s condition after the Fall, Christ stands as the representative of the Father, the connecting link between God and man; He is the great teacher of mankind. And He ordained that men and women should be His representatives. The family was the school, and the parents were the teachers.
The education centering in the family was that which prevailed in the days of the patriarchs. Ed 33.2 – Ed 33.3
And oh, what a burning desire filled my heart to see this great field, London especially, worked as it should be. Why have not workers been sent there, men and women who could have planned for the advancement of the work? I have wondered why our people, those who are not ordained ministers, but who have a connection with God, who understand the Scriptures, do not open the Word to others. If they would engage in this work, great blessing would come to their own souls. God wants His people to work. To every man—and that means every woman, also—He has given His work, and this work each one is to perform according to his several ability.—The General Conference Bulletin, April 22, 1901, p. 396 (Daughters of God, 134, 135). MTC 178.1
Ministers are paid. Should their companion’s labors be counted for naught?—The minister is paid for his work, and this is well. And if the Lord gives the wife as well as the husband the burden of labor, and she devotes her time and strength to visiting from family to family and opening the Scriptures to them, although the hands of ordination have not been laid upon her, she is accomplishing a work that is in the line of ministry. Then should her labors be counted as naught?—Gospel Workers, 452.
The Lord has a work for women—The Lord has a work for women as well as for men. They may take their places in His work at this crisis, and He will work through them. If they are imbued with a sense of their duty, and labor under the influence of the Holy Spirit, they will have just the self-possession required for this time. The Saviour will reflect upon these self-sacrificing women the light of His countenance, and will give them a power that exceeds that of men. They can do in families a work that men cannot do, a work that reaches the inner life. They can come close to the hearts of those whom men cannot reach. Their labor is needed.—The Review and Herald, August 26, 1902. PaM 79.1 – PaM 79.2
There is hard work to be done in dislodging error and false doctrine from the head, that Bible truth and Bible religion may find a place in the heart. It was as a means ordained of God to educate young men and women for the various departments of missionary labor that colleges were established among us. It is God’s will that they send forth not merely a few, but many laborers. 5T 390.3
Since His ascension Christ has carried forward His work on the earth by chosen ambassadors, through whom He speaks to the children of humanity and ministers to their needs. The great Head of the church superintends His work through the instrumentality of men and women ordained by God to act as His representatives. JNN 56.4