A few weeks ago I set out on a new series of articles through which I intend to scan the history of the church—from its earliest days all the way to the present time—to examine some of Christianity’s most notorious false teachers. Along the way we will visit such figures as Arius, Pelagius, Fosdick, and even a few you might find on television today. We continue this morning with a false teacher—the first woman in the series—who has around 18 million followers in the world today.
Ellen G. White
Ellen Gould Harmon was born on a small farm near the village of Gorham, Maine, on November 26, 1827. Only a few years after her birth, her parents Robert and Eunice Harmon gave up farming to move to the nearby town of Portland where her father became a hat maker. When Ellen was nine she was permanently disfigured when a fellow student maliciously hit her in the head with a rock. The rock put her into a coma that lasted several weeks and forced her to miss a long period of schooling.
When Ellen was twelve, she and her family attended a Methodist camp meeting in Buxton, Maine, and there she had a formative religious experience in which she professed faith in Jesus Christ. In 1840 and 1842 she and her family attended Adventist meetings and become devotees of William Miller. Miller had dedicated himself to the study of biblical prophecy and was convinced that Christ would return on October 22, 1844. When Christ did not return, a non-event that would become known as The Great Disappointment, most people abandoned Adventism. But in the resulting confusion, Ellen claimed to have received visions that were soon accepted as God-given revelation. The small Adventist movement that remained was split by many rifts and much infighting, but Ellen was believed to have a gift that could reunite and guide the movement. Her dreams and visions continued and she quickly became a leader among them.
In 1846, Ellen married a young Adventist preacher named James White and together they traveled extensively, spreading the Adventist faith to New England and beyond. Twelve months later she gave birth to a son, one of four children she would bear, but soon left the child with friends so she could carry on traveling, preaching, and writing.
In 1855 the Whites moved to Battle Creek, Michigan, and that became Adventism’s hub. Five years later, representatives from each Adventist congregation gathered there and determined that henceforth they would be known as Seventh-day Adventists. Soon after they formally organized as a denomination.
All through this time Ellen continued to receive prophetic dreams and visions—some 2,000 during her lifetime—and through them she guided and formed the church. Over her lifetime Testimonies for the Church expanded from a mere sixteen pages to nine full volumes. In 1863 she received a vision about human health and her followers soon adopted her health regulations as part of their practice, rejecting meat, coffee and medication in favor of natural remedies.