Brandon's Notepad

June 26, 2015

The Great Controversy


I picked up a 1950 edition of Ellen G. White’s The Great Controversy Between Christ and Satan at the used book shop for only a few dollars, primarily because it includes a few chapters on Martin Luther. After doing a little research, I found that this work (and other works by White and her husband) contains foundational material in the formation of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Despite its 689 pages from Preface to Appendix, I plan for this to be a quick read. Thus, a brief synopsis of each chapter must be sufficient for my notes.

Note: This post falls into the Christianity category only because the Seventh-day Adventists self-identify as followers of Christ. I am well aware that they are considered a heretical cult by the rest of Christendom.

Synopsis & Observations

Preface. The publishers provide introspection and offer praise for White’s work.

Introduction. White begins with a short primer on the Bible, the infallible revelation and authoritative word of God. Citing that the Holy Spirit will not (cannot?) operate in contradiction to the Bible, she chastises those who, by their enlightenment, follow the Spirit and no longer need the Word. As the ‘controversy’ builds, this book is offered as a historical view that should help the reader come to a right understanding of what the future holds.

Chapter 1: The Destruction of Jerusalem. This chapter begins with Jesus atop the Mount of Olives, surveying the City of Jerusalem below and weeping. It ends with the city’s destruction. The story underlines the consequences for the apostasy of the Jews, the complete and utter destruction of their Holy City and its Temple. The wrath of God left Jerusalem in control of the leader chosen by her inhabitants, who was Satan. (p.28) Yet, not one Christian perished because they had heeded Jesus’ warning, and fled when they saw the signs of the impending invasion. (p.30)

  • White quotes several times The History of the Jews, which was authored by The Very Reverend Henry Hart Milman (Anglican clergyman and Oxford professor) and published in 1829.
  • White’s account mirrors certain passages in The Last Days of Jerusalem by another English scholar, Alfred J. Church.

Chapter 2: Persecution in the First Centuries. The first Christians were tortured mercilessly and many killed by the Romans, often as a result of false charges brought against them. Martyrs were not only secure in Christ, but their sacrifices strengthened their fellow believers and resulted in the conversion of many to the faith. Satan could not win by force, so he decided to try deception. “The great adversary now endeavored to gain by artifice what he had failed to secure by force.” (p.42) Persecution ended and was replaced with comfort and privilege. The Christian church started compromising its faith for the sake of the idolaters who were joining their ranks, thereby forming a union with pagans. The Christian faith is popular today because it is in such close alignment with the sinful ways of the world.

  • Tertullian’s Apology (¶50) is quoted.
  • The charge of idolatry in this chapter is aimed directly at Catholics: “Although the worshipers of idols professed to be converted…they still clung to their idolatry, only changing the objects of their worship to images of Jesus, and even of Mary and the saints.” (p.43)
  • Ananias and Sapphira are used as examples of the types of sinners who infiltrated the early Church.

Chapter 3: The Apostasy. Once Christianity was established as the religion of the state by Constantine, it was the Roman Church that Satan used as his instrument to compromise the faith. “The Apostle Paul, in his second letter to the Thessalonians, foretold the great apostasy which would result in the establishment of the papal power. […] Even at that early date he saw, creeping into the church, errors that would prepare the way for the development of the papacy.” (p.49) Such errors were the direct work of Satan. For example, to undermine adherence to God’s law, he worked to change the primary day of worship from the true Sabbath to the pagan feast day of the Sun, first through the Jews by encouraging them to pile on unnecessary traditions on the day of rest, and then through the Christians who hated the Jews and their laws. It was Satan who brought power to the papacy as well, fulfilling prophecies foretold in the books of Daniel and Revelation. The Pope eventually claimed to be the visible head of the entire Church, took on titles that made him appear to be equal with God, and proclaimed himself to be infallible in all he decrees. Satan knew that the Bible alone could expose the Pope as the agent of Satan, so he eventually suppressed it, thereby ushering in the Dark Ages, when the Christian world experienced no intellectual progress. With the people unable to think for themselves, the Church began to preach the benefits of various physical acts for the atonement for sin: pilgrimages, penance, relic worship…even payments of money to the Church! Ancient (forged) documents started to emerge, supporting all sorts of strange beliefs. First came the belief in the immortal soul of man, which is not mentioned in the Bible. This led to the concept of sainthood and the veneration of ordinary people, such as Mary. Then, there came the notion that the soul is to be punished before entrance into Heaven, which the Church called Purgatory, and which added to the acts of atonement the selling of indulgences. This ultimately made the Church rich. Finally, the simple ordinance of the Lord’s Supper was replaced by the sacrifice of the Mass, which gives the Roman priest the (perceived) power to create God from the earthly elements of bread and wine.

  • The rhetoric used in this chapter is largely the same as that used by Christian Fundamentalists today, with a few modifications. For example, the words human theories and traditions are used instead of the more familiar traditions of men.
  • White pulls no punches with regard to Rome or the Pope: “…and having thus rejected Christ, [the Church] was induced to yield allegiance to the representative of Satan – the bishop of Rome.” p.50
  • She refers to the Roman Catholic Church as “that gigantic system of false religion”. (p.50) (I can’t help but wonder if, in modern days, she might have opted for the word ginormous.)
  • The Dark Ages being the result of the suppression of the Bible is supported by Hosea 4:6: my people are destroyed from lack of knowledge.
  • The prophecies mentioned above refer to the Dragon (Rev 13:2) and the 1,260 years of tribulation (Dan 7:25, Rev 13:5-7, Rev 12:6).
  • Several other points are supported with references to Catholic documents, though based necessarily on her interpretation of their meanings.

Chapter 4: The Waldenses. During its reign, Rome persecuted those who chose not to hold her beliefs and dogmas. Not only were the writings of dissenters destroyed, but so were the records of their persecutions. This extended even to Britain, the farthest reaches of the Empire. Christians fled first from Rome and then from pagan Saxon invaders, protecting all along the pure Christian doctrine from defilement. Rome sent missionaries to convert the heathen Saxons. When the primitive Christians were discovered and refused to follow the Pope, they were threatened with violence by the Pope’s representative.

  • The Wikipedia article on the History of Christianity in Britain provides a sufficient backdrop for the period covered in the first part of this chapter, particularly the sections on the Celts and Anglo-Saxons.
  • According to history, as Rome withdrew from Britain and the Saxons invaded, the Church there was replaced with pagan Germanic polytheism.
  • Saint Columba, Abbott of Iona (Scotland), is mentioned by name. White claims that one of his missionaries was an observer of the Bible Sabbath, and since Iona was a center of learning, this “truth” was known amongst the people.
  • The Pope’s representative (White uses the word emissary) was Saint Augustine of Canterbury.

Chapter 4 is not complete. More to come…

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