Brian Neumann’s Journey
Brian Neumann has recently published a book, The White Elephant in Seventh-day Adventism in which he sets out to evaluate the prophetic ministry of Ellen G. White in the Seventh-day Adventist church. The Adventist Soapbox intends to run a number of blogs interacting with Brian Neumann’s book over the coming weeks. We begin by publishing (with permission) the introductory section of the book where Brian tells his story.
My intended purpose
Three times while writing “The White Elephant” I have had to readjust the content and rethink my approach in presenting my case. This has not been an easy task. When I started out I Intended to write a book that was going to help, specifically Seventh-day Adventists (SDA’s), put the prophetic work of Ellen G. White into a balanced perspective.
I embarked on this journey with no predisposed bias. However, I consciously purposed to leave no stone unturned in my quest for proof that would either vindicate, or if the overwhelming evidence left no other option, prove Ellen White to be a false prophet—Scripture being the supreme standard for every test.
My preparation for this task
I did not take on this project as a stranger to the SDA Church or the ministry of Ellen White. I am a fourth generation SDA and the majority of my family have been or are still either pastors, educators, missionaries or church workers of some or other sort in the denomination.
When I was a teenager I left the church and worked as a professional musician in the Rock Music Industry in Europe and South Africa. In my mid thirties, after accepting Christ, I was baptized, joined the SDA Church and immediately became actively involved in ministry myself. For nearly eighteen years I dedicated my life to ministry in the SDA denomination. I was an ordained Elder, worked as a conference evangelist at various times, sat on the Evangelism Committee of the Cape Conference in South Africa and was actively involved in other areas of ministry.
For most of that time I was a speaker for a self-supporting SDA ministry, “Amazing Discoveries” (Germany, France, Canada and U.S.A.) and travelled the world doing lectures on music, Bible Prophecy and the ministry of Ellen White. At one time I hosted a pre-recorded radio program for “Amazing Discoveries” in Washington State. I also produced many videos on a variety of topics, my area of expertise being music and worship. I authored four books, some of which have been published in a number of different languages, contributed to other church publications and appeared on TV. In addition, I was interviewed on 3ABN and presented a series of lectures for Hope Channel, entitled Crisis Hour—both these are official SDA TV channels. Much of this material (lectures on Bible prophecy and other religious topics, music, documentaries, etc.) are available over the internet. A simple google search of my name (Brian S. Neumann) will produce adequate evidence of my former ministry.
The role of the Bible and Ellen White in Brian Neumann’s ministry
The Bible and counsel of Ellen White (as I saw it at the time) were the basis for much of what I believed and taught in any sphere. An integral part of my ministry was dedicated to defending her prophetic calling (I produced a number of video lectures dedicated to this end). My belief, as it is for so many in the SDA faith, was that Ellen White was a true messenger/ prophet of God. On just about any given topic, connected to the understanding of Scripture and other issues related to daily living or salvation, her inspired insight and counsel was usually the last word.
Life changing crisis
After experiencing a life-changing crisis, I was compelled to reexamine every aspect of my life. Nothing was left untouched; including everything I had once fervently believed and taught. ...
Thankfully, this process of rediscovery was not one I ended up having to go through alone. After a difficult divorce, I was remarried to Kamy, a fellow SDA. And so, by the grace of God, the process became a partnership in research, reexamination, rediscovery, reorientation and revival. Kamy’s input, on so many levels, has been invaluable to the execution and ultimate completion of this work.
In order not only to reexamine and rediscover ourselves, but the entire basis for our beliefs, we consciously set a course aimed at finding answers to questions we believed would, not only confirm or debunk our beliefs, but would also help in the process of emotional and spiritual rediscovery. The bottom line was to confirm or rediscover truth at all costs on the basis of what Scripture clearly revealed. A most integral part of this quest was coming to terms with what had been one of the essential components of our SDA belief platform, the prophetic ministry of Ellen G. White. The evidence that came to light as a result of more than three years of intensive research literally turned our world upside down.
Discovering the unexpected
It all started out with simply trying to find answers to troubling questions we had been confronted with before but never really pursued—things that had just been shelved somewhere in the subconscious waiting for the right opportunity or set of circumstances to expose them to the light of day. From the outset I decided that whatever it was that we were going to discover had to be recorded and put into book form. My research was painstaking and detailed. I covered every bit of evidence I could find (historical and present-day—books, websites, videos, personal interviews, Biblical evidence, etc.) that had anything to do with Ellen G. White—for or against.
For me, personally, the process of research, as it pertained to finding all the come-backs that debunked the critics’ arguments against Ellen White, was not difficult at all. I had spent so many years defending her myself that I knew every defense that has ever been used by her apologists. I was thoroughly familiar with her writings on every topic and also fully understood how SDA scholars construct an apparently solid biblical platform in support of her prophetic ministry and how she, in turn, becomes the point of final reference for testing any interpretation of Scripture.
Of course, most SDA Bible scholars will never admit to this. Indeed, some do not even realize that a simple consequence of using Ellen White and the Bible the way they do, always leads them to test their conclusions against her inspired words—her influence over every SDA belief is all-encompassing. The average lay-person and even many pastors themselves do not realize how deeply her ideas affect beliefs they assume are based purely on Scripture alone. In fact, those who are familiar with the SDA Bible Commentary series will know that the commentary found in those books, although creating the impression that it is solidly scriptural, rely heavily on Ellen White’s “revelations.” Thus, regardless of the SDA declaration, “the Bible and the Bible alone”/”Sola Scriptura,” it needs to be understood that this is simply not the case.
Indeed, Ellen White herself stated:
- “It is Satan’s plan to weaken the faith of God’s people in the Testimonies [her inspired counsel].
- Next follows skepticism in regard to the vital points of our faith, the pillars of our position,
- then doubt as to the Holy Scriptures, and
- THEN the downward march to perdition” (Testimonies Vol. 4, p. 211. Numbering, emphasis & italics supplied).
It was this underlying knowledge of how the authority of Ellen White operates within SDA faith that constantly informed my research into evidence on both sides of the Ellen White debate.
When you understand, as she herself stated, that the road to perdition (hell) really commences with losing faith in HER inspired counsel, then it becomes obvious in what the sincere SDA believer will be compelled to ground their belief— consciously or not.
With each new piece of evidence uncovered we were overcome with a progressive series of reactions.
- First, uncertainty, uncertainty gave way to
- disappointment, disappointment to
- incredulity and heart-break, which turned into
- indignation and then
- absolute outrage.
If, by the grace of God, we had not transitioned past the outrage, we would probably have ended up in the same situation as so many who, on discovering the truth about Ellen White, aggressively resist any teachings that even resemble Adventist/ SDA doctrine. Thankfully, this did not happen. Through prayer for deeper insight and wisdom and as the result of constant research, covering the same ground over and over from every perspective till all avenues had been exhausted, Scripture always being the last word, we were able to keep things in focus….
So many voices, so many opinions!
It is no secret that many people today, from laity to leadership, have a variety of views on how they should relate to the ministry of Ellen G. White. It is also no secret that there are major splits in the church from the General Conference down to divisions, unions, conferences, congregations and then individual membership in regard to whether they should invest supreme authority or any significant authority in the writings of Ellen White at all. Were all her published works really inspired by God or is there some other explanation? The different opinions on this question could possibly be grouped as follows:
- Those who have absolute faith in Ellen White’s prophetic authority. Some place absolute faith in all she has to say, in prophetic foresight and specific instructions (lifestyle and the Christian walk, etc.) and regard her as the final voice of authority on all matters, even, as already alluded to, when it comes to the interpretation of Scripture.This trend seems to be most prevalent in the self supporting/ independent sector of the SDA Church and in the more traditional /conservative mainstream sector.
- Those with a “more balanced” view: Others have what they understand to be a more balanced, practical approach, placing emphasis on writings such as the “Conflict of the Ages” series of books while downplaying the stronger instructions contained in the “Testimonies to the Church” series (counsel on dress, diet and many other lifestyle issues, etc.).
- Those who see Ellen White as irrelevant : A growing number of SDA’s – particularly in the more affluent Western Nations – see her instructions as either outdated (applying only to the time and culture of her day), that they were never actually relevant, or in the extreme, despise or ignore her altogether.
- Those who believe that each individual can interpret her instructions as he/she wishes. When confronted with the statement that she was a prophet of God and thus her instruction needs to be unequivocally applied in every instance, some will respond by saying that she herself said that she was only a “messenger.” In so doing, they suggest that some of what she instructed is really left up to the individual to interpret and apply.
- Those whose approach is to look to SDA church historians or Bible scholars for final teaching on how they should interpret the more “difficult to understand” portions of her writings.
- Then there is the “silent” majority, who hold to variations of these assorted opinions and who prefer to just say nothing for fear of being criticized or accused of rocking the boat.
In and through all of this an uncomfortable “status quo” is retained and the white elephant continues to march up and down the proverbial aisles of SDA churches around the world.
The effect of the Ellen White controversy on the young people of the Church
The youth see these contradictions, sense the undercurrent, notice the divisions and find themselves caught in a church that is desperately trying to juggle a white elephant that is bound to, sooner or later, come crashing to the ground.
At other times they are confronted with an ocean of additional extra-biblical instruction, the SDA “Talmud” that cannot (apparently), when carefully dissected, be substantiated by the clear simple teachings of Scripture. Instead of their religious experience becoming simplified, with broad guidelines, based on absolutely clear biblical principles, there seem to be lists and lists of added by-laws. […]
As a result, the youth become so discouraged and disillusioned that they simply give up and get out as fast as they possibly can. Added to this, while hearing all these teachings of “eternal consequence,” they see something completely different in the example of their church leaders—coffee drinking, meat-eating, consumption of alcohol, competitive sports and modes of dress that clearly violate the standards given by Ellen White. The unavoidable response: “if the leaders cannot do it, why should we be expected to?”
Multiplicity of public criticisms and attacks
To add fuel to the controversy, there are the many very vocal and often vehement critics who constantly publish their conclusions on the internet, bringing people’s attention to what they see as glaring contradictions in the writings and life-history of Ellen White. Thus, by discrediting her they seek to show that the SDA Church, because of the emphasis it places on its “prophetess,” is just another one of the many cults in Christianity today. A number of these individuals, are ex-members of the SDA Church (some of them were once pastors or church leaders). There are also some who are still members of the SDA denomination.
Of course, the history of criticism goes back to the time of Ellen White herself. Canright, Ballenger, Kellogg, Jones, Waggoner and others, all of whom criticized Ellen White to various degrees and who, at some point in time, were prominent leaders in the SDA Church.
In recent decades others, like Walter Rea (former SDA Pastor), author of “The White Lie”, Desmond Ford (former SDA professor and Bible scholar) and a string of lesser known critics, have added their voices to the list of detractors, for reasons they rightfully see as relevant.
The Church’s response to criticism of Ellen White
The Church, and in particular the Ellen G. White Estate, has published official responses to criticisms (such as the famous book, “Ellen White and Her Critics”, by Francis Nichol), in an attempt to show up the vindictiveness, prejudice and/or inaccuracy of those speaking out against Ellen White.
Some of these defenses have been effective (especially when addressing some of the weaker or more opportunistic, “straw-grabbing” attempts by the critics) while some have not been adequate at all. This has especially been the case when intelligent criticisms, based on factual, hard-core evidences, have been presented. Indeed, in many instances, the character or life of some critics have been attacked instead of the actual subject matter. In other cases, responses to criticisms have skirted the real issue, or at best, rendered only another interpretation to that of the critics, inspiring even more questions instead of completely dispelling all doubt. …
The plagiarism issue
The accusation of plagiarism leveled at Ellen White, in the book “The White Lie” by Walter Rea, was apparently debunked— the outcome of a lengthy court case. This SDA victory is often brandished as primary evidence against the critics. Yet, what most people do not realize is that there is a substantial body of communication on this matter between people at the Ellen G. White Estate and Walter Rea himself that paint a disturbingly different picture. If the truth be told, and it will, there are other issues in relation to Ellen White—her life and her writings, as they relate to Scripture and more—that will make the accusation of plagiarism addressed in “The White Lie” look like a minor offense.
In this book, the historical record of Ellen White’s life and work (official and unofficial) will be investigated, by examining SDA and non-SDA sources. Voices of those that were close to her at various times and at different levels during her life will be allowed to testify—positively or negatively. Arguments and counter arguments will be presented and examined. An integral part of the investigation and ultimate conclusion will be based on the evidence of Ellen G. White’s own words….
Although I might not cover every criticism or question that has ever been presented, I will share enough evidence to address the primary categories of concern and will (for reasons that will be clearly stated), in my closing argument, urge the necessity upon the SDA Church to clearly and officially address the issue of Ellen White.
My relationship with the Adventist church
Let it not be misunderstood, even though I do not agree with the SDA Church on Ellen White and the effect her teachings have had on many of their core beliefs, I love the church and its members, leaders and laity alike. I recognize the tremendous amount of good this denomination has done around the world and know that so many who are involved in these efforts do so out of love for God and their fellow-man.
It is however a matter of extreme urgency that the Seventh-day Adventist Church recognize that from without and within, at the highest levels of church structure, there are hidden agendas, double dealing and denial. At the lower levels there is, rightfully or wrongfully, suspicion and fear that the church has compromised its mission. The upshot of these problems has produced extreme fanaticism on the one hand and extreme liberalism on the other. All of this can either directly or indirectly be traced to the authority exercised by Ellen White’s teachings that often supersede even the Word of God itself or the knee-jerk reaction in rejection of her teachings that lead to unscriptural doctrine and practice— either way scriptural authority is sacrificed.
Those who are trying to be “balanced” are continually faced with the specter of Ellen White in that it seems to be virtually impossible for them to do what they believe to be scriptural without being constantly reminded of those instructions of Ellen White that cannot be found in the scriptures. It is my sincere hope and desire that the reader will see that I am attempting to bring to greater light and clarity the only true and trustworthy foundation for Christian life and teaching—the Bible. If it does not speak according to what is clearly and unambiguously revealed in Scripture then there is no light in it (Isaiah 8:20). “Quench not the Spirit. Despise not prophesyings. Prove all things; hold fast that which is good”(1 Thessalonians 5:19).
Read Kamy Lynn Neumann’s story as told by herself and Brian further on in The White Elephant.
The Adventist Soapbox will publish several blogs interacting critically and constructively with The White Elephant.
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