On October 22, 1844 Jesus failed to appear in America and elsewhere, as the Millerites (followers of prophet William Miller) fervently expected him to. Months later 17-year old Ellen Gould Harmon fell into a trance at a Millerite meeting in a private house. As others before her, she re-interpreted the meaning of Jesus's non-appearance. It was the end of a phase of Jesus's ministry, not the Second Coming itself. To those who did not accepted this interpretation, there was suddenly a "shut door" upon personal salvation.
Years later, Ellen, now married and a mother, moved away from the ecstatic "shouting Methodist" religion in which she had been raised and its post-Millerite manifestations during her frequent trances and revelations from God. She organized a church. She became a prolific writer. After a major 1863 revelation from God, she devoted much of the rest of her very long life, including nearly a decade in Australia and New Zealand, both to preparing for Christ's Second Coming and to passing on God's detailed prescriptions for healthy living.
With some wavering down the decades, as Mrs White recalled her seminal visions and then rejected some of her first verbal formulations of God's message, Helen Gould Harmon White wrote to her Seventh-day Adventists along the following lines.
-- God positively wants all people to be healthy, (and this although Helen herself had wretched health all her life).
-- This means among other things: women should give up wearing corsets and wear short skirts over trousers.
-- Everyone should stop using tobacco and alcohol, stop going to doctors who prescribe drugs, and should avoid meat and possibly butter.
-- Everyone should get lots of fresh air, water and, when ailing, rely on water cures.
Ellen was as good as her word. She patronized the Kelloggs of Battle Creek in their work at her sanitarium and their creation of dry cereal breakfast foods. She inspired one of the most impressive of all Protestant health and education networks. The Seventh-day Adventists around Adventist-dense Loma Linda, California were singled out in his best-selling THE BLUE ZONES by Dan Buettner for their clean-living longevity and the number of happy 100-year olds.
Today there are perhaps 20 million Adventists world-wide and most were taught to believe that Mrs White's writings were at least on a par with those of the New Testament.
History of Science Professor Ronald L. Numbers, raised from cradle through early academic career among family members who were paramount chiefs of Seventh-day Adventism, but no longer practicing his inherited faith, produced in 1976 PROPHETESS OF HEALTH: A STUDY OF ELLEN G. WHITE. This exciting book has gone through three editions. It burst like a bombshell among Adventists in 1976. Numbers was soon followed by other young "renegade" academically trained Adventists in subjecting the hitherto untouchable supernatural dimension of Helen White to naturalistic scrutiny.
Whatever Adventists or non-Adventists may think of Helen White as a God-chosen special channel of revelation, the fact remains that millions of people have led long, healthy lives following her advice on health.
Some excerpts from PROPHETESS OF HEALTH (3rd edition, 2008)
-- From court transcripts of an 1845 trial of someone else in Maine. "The trial record shows seventeen-year old Ellen Harmon, accompanied by James White (her future husband) caught up in the very 'fanaticism' that she would later denounce: kissing, touching, crawling, and shouting" (xiii).
-- From Preface to the First Edition (1976)
"Ellen G. White, Seventh-day Adventist prophetess, ranks with the Mormon Joseph Smith, the Christian Scientist Mary Baker Eddy, and Charles Taze Russell of the Jehovah's Witnesses as one of four nineteenth-century founders of a major American religious sect. ... By her death in 1915 she had founded one of the nation's largest indigenous denominations, created a string of sanitariums and hospitals stretching from Scandinavia to the South Pacific, and inspired an educational system without peer in the Protestant world today. She had traveled widely, lectured extensively, and written dozens of books on a variety of subjects. Few contemporaries, male or famale, accomplished more" (xxx).
COMMENT: Presbyterians might dispute their implied runner-up status vis-a-vis Adventists in the world of Protestant educational work.
Professor Numbers writes clearly and forcefully. His footnotes and index amply document his argument. This is a book well worth reading and rereading. -OOO-