My Three Great Grandpas and Ellen White

Reject, Revere, Or Respect?

By Dan Serns

How do you relate to the gift of prophecy? Jesus promised that His final church would have this gift[1] but that the devil would also provide false prophets.[2] The Bible tell us not to despise prophecy but on the other hand it tells us to test it with the Bible tests[3] and to hold on to what is good.[4] Seventh-day Adventists believe that Ellen White (1827-1915) was given the gift of prophecy.[5] There is danger in rejecting the gift and there is also danger in idolizing the one who received the gift rather than worshipping the One who gave the gift.

How do you relate to Ellen White’s life, ministry and writings? Three of my great grandfathers knew her personally and each one related to her in a different way.

Rejected her – Dr. Frank B. Moran[6]

Frank B. Moran was born in Iowa in 1866. While studying medicine at the University of Michigan he received treatments at Battle Creek Sanitarium and accepted the Adventist message. At the Sanitarium, he also met Adelaide Adams. Earlier in her life, a traveling Seventh-day Adventist evangelist had come to their Iowa town in 1882, hired her at age 15 to be his pianist and by the end of the meetings, she had accepted the Adventist message. A decade later her interest in the Adventist Health Message took her to Battle Creek, Michigan where she and Frank B. Moran met and were married in 1894.[7]

The young couple were soon in demand among Adventist church leaders looking for talented medical leaders. Elder W. C. White, Ellen White’s son, wrote Dr. Moran in March of 1897, “There is an excellent opening [for Adventist medical work] in several of the [Australian] Colonies… Queensland… Sydney… The main question is, Has the Lord called you to go to some of these needy mission fields, and are you ready to respond to his call?”[8]

A few months later another letter from W. C. White stated, “I have Mrs. Moran’s letter… telling me about… your appointment to the position in Rural Health Retreat [which soon became St. Helena Sanitarium]. I congratulate you on the appointment, and wish to express my sincere wish that you may have wisdom, grace and courage to meet the labors and the perplexities of the work…”[9]

By 1901 Dr. Moran was called to establish a sanitarium in Los Angeles, the third major Adventist sanitarium in the United States after Battle Creek and St. Helena. There were differences of opinion on how to proceed.[10] After counsel to not locate in Long Beach[11] or establish a large permanent work in Anaheim,[12] work was begun temporarily in downtown Los Angeles.

By March of 1902 Dr. Moran wrote glowingly to one of the board members of the group that oversaw Adventist medical work in California how “the [vegetarian] restaurant, city treatment rooms, etc. have already outgrown our space in the building which we now occupy.” He had made arrangements for the purchase of a three-story building in downtown Los Angeles. He wanted to open a Vegetarian Restaurant on the first floor, have his office and treatment rooms on the second floor and guest rooms on the third floor. He didn’t have adequate funding but expected church leaders to “sign some very large notes in the near future but the thing is absolutely safe” and “will never cost them a cent.”[13]

Ellen White and church leaders expressed serious concerns about putting a sanitarium on the edge of a rapidly growing city, as well as going into financial partnerships with those who were not fully committed to the Adventist message and mission.[14] She wrote “In attempting to advance the interests of the sanitarium in Los Angeles, Dr. Moran has recently made unwise movements. He has moved in accordance with his own judgment and the judgment of his immediate friends. But this hasty movement on his part is to be carefully considered, lest others should follow his example.”[15] In spite of the counsel, Moran pressed ahead with his plans. As money grew tight he justified opening his restaurant on Sabbath. Ellen White counseled him on both his financial presumption and on his Sabbath rationalization.[16] He was angry that a woman would try to tell him, a doctor and businessman, what to do.

When the business venture failed Moran blamed Ellen White and the Adventist church leaders. He left Los Angeles a bitter and discouraged man. In time, he settled with his wife and infant son in the Dallas, Texas area where he opened a Doctor’s Office.

Adelaide Adams Moran as Preceptress (Dean of Women) for what is now Southwestern Adventist University. Original photo on wall of Pechero Hall.

Over the next twenty years he became harder to live with so his still deeply committed wife found safety and refuge as Dean of Women on the campus of what is now Southwestern Adventist University where their son had gone to study.

Still practicing medicine at age of 80, Frank bought a 55-acre farm out in the country where he lived, walking a mile each way daily to catch the bus to and from his medical practice. Till the end, he let his pride keep him from admitting he might be wrong.

Fortunately, his son, Elder Frank A. Moran, accepted the counsel that his father had rejected, and was associated with Adventist medical work in California and Texas throughout much of his pastoral ministry.[17]

Revered her – Benjamin House[18]

Benjamin House had a very difficult childhood. His mother had become pregnant with him due to an affair while her husband was away from home on an extended trip. When her husband returned he kicked his pregnant wife out of the house where she and little Benjamin struggled financially over the next few years.

Benjamin L. House

But Benjamin determined to make something of his life. He did well in school, studied for the ministry and later served as chair of the religion department and senior pastor of the college church at what is today Southwestern Adventist University (Keene, Texas), then Pacific Union College (Angwin, California) and finally Union College (Lincoln, Nebraska).

He was a widely respected Bible scholar and participated in the 1919 Bible Conference where, among many other theological issues, church leaders tried to grapple with how to relate to the writings of Ellen White after her death four years earlier.[19] Some at the Conference said that Ellen White, like the Bible writers, had plenary, or thought, inspiration, that the Holy Spirit inspired the writer but the writer used their own words to express what they heard and saw.[20] Others, including Benjamin House, countered that Ellen White, like the Bible writers, was verbally inspired, that the Holy Spirit often if not always dictated to them the words to write. The verbal inspiration group prevailed at the Bible conference. A few years later Benjamin House wrote a textbook for college Bible classes that promoted their viewpoint.[21] Unfortunately, he saw the prophet as someone to revere rather than as a humble human being used by God to communicate His messages in her own words.

Several years later, while serving in Lincoln, Nebraska, Benjamin was called into the office of church leaders and asked about an unwise relationship that might be developing between him and one of his young female students. During the meeting he lost his temper, said “If you don’t have any more faith in me than that, then just forget it, I’m done” and stormed out. His pride wouldn’t allow him to try to make things right. He found himself out of a job during the depression.

He went to Ohio, lived with one of his sisters, found a job and tried unsuccessfully to repair his strained marriage. Near the end of his life he returned to the Lord, reconnected with the Adventist church and was re-baptized.

Respected her – Harry Shafer[22]

Harry and his family lived in Wichita, Kansas where he served as first elder of the Adventist congregation. A big topic of discussion in the early 1900s was if there was any special significance to the fact that Adventist membership worldwide was rapidly approaching 144,000. When Ellen White stopped by the Wichita congregation on her last trip across the county Harry asked for her counsel. She said, “Brother Shafer, on this topic, at this time, silence is golden.” He accepted that, respected her, and continued to encourage the congregation to do their part in taking the Adventist message to all the world.

How we relate to the counsel and encouragement given in the writings of Ellen White can made a big difference in a person’s life. Why not read some of her writings and see how the Holy Spirit that inspired her can bless and guide you?[23] “Believe in the Lord your God, and you shall be established; believe His prophets, and you shall prosper.” 2 Chronicles 20:20.

#####

An edited version of this article was published in Adventist World (July 2020) and Adventist Review (July 18, 2020) magazines.


[1] Revelation 12:17; 19:10.

[2] Matthew 24:11, 24.

[3] Deuteronomy 18:10-12; Isaiah 8:20; Jeremiah 28:9; Matthew 7:15-20; 1 John 4:1-3.

[4] 1 Thessalonians 5:20-21.

[5] https://www.adventist.org/en/beliefs/church/the-gift-of-prophecy/. Accessed 5/18/18.

[6] My mother’s father’s father.

[7] Frank was 28; Adelaide was 27.

[8] Unpublished letter LB-011A-26 W. C. White to F. B. Moran 1897-03-25. This and other unpublished letters provided by the Ellen G. White Research Center at Southwestern Adventist University, Keene, TX

[9] Unpublished letter LB-011-349 W. C. White to F. B. Moran 1897-05-18.

[10] Ellen G. White: Volume 5—The Early Elmshaven Years: 1900-1905, By Arthur L. White, p. 125.

[11] Letter 143, 1901. Quoted in Ellen G. White: Volume 5—The Early Elmshaven Years: 1900-1905, By Arthur L. White, p. 125.

[12] Unpublished letter LB-018-110 W. C. White to F. B. Moran 1901-11-27.

[13] Unpublished letter IN-032-039 F.B. Moran to E.E. Parlin 1902-03-10.

[14] Manuscript Releases Volume Ten, p. 248-252. See also Unpublished letter S-046-1902 Ellen G. White to C. Santee and F. B. Moran 1902-03-22.

[15] Manuscript Releases Volume 17, p. 357 (MR No. 1299—Locating Sanitariums Away from the Cities; Health-Care Workers to be Deeply Spiritual, p. 348-361)

[16] Letter 157, 1902, pp. 1-14. (To the directors of the Los Angeles County Medical Missionary and Benevolent Association, October 13, 1902) in Manuscript Releases Volume Four, p. 288-289.

See also Unpublished letter M-183-1902 Ellen G. White to Brother and Sister Moran 1902-09-02.

[17] Frank A. Moran talked frequently with his boyhood friend Herbert T. Huguley about the need of Seventh-day Adventist medical work in Texas. At his death Huguley left his estate for the purpose of establishing what has become known as Texas Health Huguley Medical Center in Ft. Worth, Texas. See http://www.texashealthhuguley.org/about-us/history-of-texas-health-huguley-hospital. Accessed 5/24/18.

Frank A. Moran later sold the family farm and gave most of the proceeds to establish the nursing program at what is now Southwestern Adventist University. See Southwestern Union Record/Review June 15, 1978, p. 12D. http://www.adventistarchives.org/docs/SUR/SUR19780615-V77-12__C.pdf#view=fit p. 12D. Accessed 5/23/18. Frank A. Moran served as a Chaplain and taught Bible to medical, dental and nursing students for many years at what has become Loma Linda University Medical Center. He suggested LLUMC’s 50th Anniversary motto “To Make Man Whole.”

[18] My mother’s mother’s father.

[19] http://archives.adventistreview.org/issue.php?issue=2010-1503&page=16, Accessed 5/23/18.

[20] This was Ellen White’s position. “The Bible points to God as its author; yet it was written by human hands; and in the varied style of its different books it presents the characteristics of the several writers. The truths revealed are all “given by inspiration of God” (2 Timothy 3:16); yet they are expressed in the words of men. The Infinite One by His Holy Spirit has shed light into the minds and hearts of His servants. He has given dreams and visions, symbols and figures; and those to whom the truth was thus revealed have themselves embodied the thought in human language.” The Great Controversy, Introduction, page v. paragraph 3.

[21] Alberto R. Trimm, A History of Seventh-day Adventist Views on Biblical and Prophetic

Inspiration (1844–2000), Journal of the Adventist Theological Society, 10/1-2 (1999): 486–542. See pages 503-504. Found online at http://www.atsjats.org/publication/view/156 Accessed March 18, 2018.

[22] My father’s mother’s father.

[23] You can find all her published writings at https://egwwritings.org.  

About danserns

Happily married and father of three great kids. Seventh-day Adventist pastor who invites everyone to accept Jesus as their Savior and Lord, embrace all the teachings of the Bible and join a vibrant Adventist group.
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3 Responses to My Three Great Grandpas and Ellen White

  1. Chandra Lynn says:

    Interesting synopsis of the 3 points-of-view. My favorite EGW work is Desire of Ages.

  2. Vialo Weis says:

    Dan:
    Very interesting. I am aware of Moran Hall, which was the school of nursing for SWAU when I was there from 1973-1977 and probably for a number of years afterward. On which side of your family was Dr Frank Moran?
    I had the privilege of serving as Charles and Franklin House’s pastor in the early 1980s in Killeen, Texas. They had a brother, Derrell House, who was a builder. He also lived at Killeen during those years. Was Benjamin House related to them? On what side of your family was Benjamin House?
    Thankfully, you had one great-grandfather who respected the Lord’s Messenger. Hopefully Benjamin House did when he back late in life.
    Yours in His service,
    Vialo

    • danserns says:

      Hi Vialo. Dr. Moran was my mother’s father’s father. Moran Hall was named after his son my mother’s father who helped establish the nursing program at Southwestern Adventist University. Benjamin House was my mother’s mother’s father. One of his children was Harold House who was the president of the Mexican Union of Seventh-day Adventists at one time. Harold House’s sons were Franklin, Charles and Darrell. Thank you for your ministry to them and many others through the years.

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