Why a Modern Prophet?
By Alberto R. Timm
In January 1997 I went to River Plate Adventist University, Argentina, to teach a class for its Doctor of Theology program. From the plane, I saw for the first time the huge delta of the Paraná River, with its many canals and islands, extending itself for about 185 miles (300 kilometers). On Sabbath afternoon the director of the program drove me to the banks of the river. He told me that when a foreign ship has to sail across the delta, a local pilot who knows the delta well needs to guide the ship safely through the specific canal that is deep enough for navigation.
Just imagine our planet’s history as a turbulent river, passing through rapids and dangerous falls, and forming a huge delta before flowing into the ocean of eternity. At the most critical points in the river journey God sent special “pilots” to forewarn His people of the dangers they would face during their journey. We call these “pilots” prophets.1 For instance, He sent Noah to warn the antediluvians of the coming Flood; Moses to liberate the Israelites from their Egyptian captivity; Elijah and Elisha to lead the Israelites away from contemporary idolatry; and John the Baptist to announce Christ’s first coming. When God’s people came to the great religious and ideological delta—the spiritual challenges—of the last days, God sent another special pilot to help guide His people safely to the harbor of everlasting life.
Need for a Modern Prophet
Seventh-day Adventists accept “the Bible, and the Bible only, as the standard of all doctrines and the basis of all reforms.”2 If this is so, why do Adventists also accept Ellen White (1827-1915) as a true prophet? Do we actually need the modern manifestation of the prophetic gift? In answering these questions we must recognize, first of all, that even in biblical times there were several true prophets whose writings were not included in the Bible (cf. 1 Chron. 29:29). For Adventists, Ellen White is another true noncanonical prophet called by God for a very crucial moment of history—the time of the end.
If modern Christianity were a homogeneous religious body, solidly grounded on the authority of God’s Word, there would be no need for a manifestation of the prophetic gift in these last days. But in a world in which Christianity is more divided about the understanding of the Bible than ever before,3 such a gift is needed to scrub clean the misinterpretations of Scripture caused by the vast amount of antibiblical assumptions derived from human traditions, human reason, personal experience, and modern culture. So instead of replacing the Bible, the modern gift of prophecy helps readers to allow the Bible to interpret itself without being distorted by human biases.
Function of a Modern Prophet
Adventists believe that at the end of the 2300 prophetic days (see Dan. 8:9-14) truth would be restored by the preaching of the three angels’ messages of Revelation 14:6-12. As in other crucial moments described in Scripture, this end-time restoration also took place with special prophetic assistance, helping “(1) to direct attention to the Bible, (2) to aid in understanding the Bible, and (3) to help in applying Bible principles in our lives.”4 These functions of the prophetic gift are not limited to the early days of the Adventist movement: they should continue assisting us until the end of human history.
Jesus described it well in His parable of the great supper (Luke 14:15-24). Many people today are extremely distracted by their material possessions (verse 18), work (verse 19), and social activities (verse 20). In addition, modern communication devices and the entertainment industry are absorbing much of the time that we should be spending with God’s Word. As important as these potential distractions might be, nothing should ever replace our spiritual priorities. As I once read on a bumper sticker: “Not to have time for God means to live a time-wasted life.” Undoubtedly, we need to be reminded constantly of our spiritual priorities (see Matt. 6:33). A modern manifestation of the gift of prophecy was given to direct our attention back to the Bible.
Even those who spend time with the Bible are tempted to distort its true meaning. As already mentioned, God gave us in Ellen White a modern prophet to help free us from the human traditions that tend to distort our understanding of God’s Word. Her writings are “a divine prophetic filter that helps us to remove all the human rubble that tradition has artificially imposed on the Bible, so that the divine message of the Scriptures can flow pure and clean into our hearts.”5
It’s a scary thought that even Satan can understand God’s Word without allowing it to transform his life (James 2:19). Ellen White warns that “many accept an intellectual religion, a form of godliness, when the heart is not cleansed.”6 And she adds, “A man may hear and acknowledge the whole truth, and yet know nothing of personal piety and true experimental religion. He may explain the way of salvation to others, and yet himself be a castaway.”7 The modern manifestation of the spirit of prophecy was provided to help us submit to the sanctifying influence of God’s Word (see John 17:17; Matt. 5:13-16).
Alberto R. Timm, Ph.D., is a native of Brazil and recently joined the Ellen G. White Estate as an associate director. He is married to Marly, and they have three children.