Worship as adoration: A perspective from Ellen G. White
Throughout her ministry, Ellen White’s approach to worship emphasized the role of practical religion in life. Although her focus did not fail to stress issues such as reverence, prayer, preaching, music, and singing, her writings reveal a fundamental grounding of worship in biblical theology – on subjects such as God’s central role, the human response to God, salvation as a real and joyful experience, church as a worshiping community, and the future as the Christian’s ultimate hope.
Adoration: God as all in all
Ellen White affirms that God deserves to be adored for the qualities of His character and for His creative and redemptory work. Worship must begin with a clear and close relationship to God. “When we are able to comprehend the character of God, as did Moses, we, too, shall make haste to bow in adoration and praise.”1
Among other divine attributes Ellen White mentions as reasons for worship and reverence are justice, perfection, greatness, wisdom, presence, kindness, power, compassion, holiness, and love. Great acts of God such as creation, sustenance, revelation, and redemption are also powerful reasons. She writes: “The duty to worship God is based upon the fact that he is the Creator and that to him all other beings owe their existence.”2
Ellen White offers a delicate balance between God’s transcendence and immanence, and so encourages reverence and order as well as communion and happiness. She recognizes that worship is related to the three divine persons, and affirms that true worship is “the fruit of the working of the Holy Spirit.”3
Adoration: Human response to God
Ellen White also understood adoration as the response of humans to God. This response recognizes first and foremost God as worthy of all worship from His created order. Without Him, we are not. All that we are and all that we do must come under the overarching imperative of who God is and what He expects of us. Before Him, we must stand in reverence, respect, humility, thankfulness, obedience, and joy. Every creative and emotional response that defines what humans are becomes subject to Him. Hence she warns: “Christ’s followers today should guard against the tendency to lose the spirit of reverence and godly fear.”4
Even though we are small and sinful before the awful presence of God, we are called upon to worship Him as children – boldly and “with joyfulness.”5 We should consider it “a pleasure to worship the Lord and to take part in His work.”6
Joy and boldness are part of the integrated nature of worship. Ellen White defines this integration as a factor that demands that we worship God with all we are – our bodies, our thoughts, our emotions, our possessions. Adoration must become a lifestyle: “God desired that the whole life of His people should be a life of praise.”7
Adoration: A joyful experience in salvation
Of all things, the one experience that must launch us into unreserved adoration is the joy of salvation from sin. Ellen White says: “Every heart that is enlightened by the grace of God is constrained to bow with inexpressible gratitude and adoration before the Redeemer for His infinite sacrifice.”8 In addition to the cross, the intercessory work of Christ in the heavenly sanctuary invokes gratitude and adoration to God. Christ’s “perfect righteousness, which through faith is imputed to His people…can alone make the worship of sinful beings acceptable to God.”9
Since worship is a living experience of the redeemed, Ellen White underscored true worship as a service of love, gratitude, and obedience. “Without obedience to His commandments no worship can be pleasing to God.”10 Hence, Sabbath takes on its significance as a day of remembrance and worship.
Adoration: The church coming together in worship
Ellen White believed that adoration and worship are significant in the gathering of the community of faith. She describes the moments of worship as a “sacred and precious season.”11 Therefore, she continually stressed reverence and order in worship, and avoiding any kind of confusion. She wrote: “There should be rules in regard to the time, the place, and the manner of worshiping. Nothing that is sacred, nothing that pertains to the worship of God, should be treated with carelessness or indifference.”12 Her vision of worship included dignity and serenity, avoiding the extremes of formalism and fanaticism. She appreciated reverence and warned against noise, screams, fanatic expressions, and excitement. “God’s work is ever characterized by calmness and dignity,”13 and so should our worship of Him.
As it is the moment when the saints come to worship their Creator, Ellen White was always conscious of the true sprit of worship. “The evil of formal worship cannot be too strongly depicted,” she wrote, “but no words can properly set forth the deep blessedness of genuine worship.”14 Worship meetings, therefore, should be spiritual, attractive, and fraternal. “Our meetings should be made intensely interesting. They should be pervaded with the very atmosphere of heaven.”15 Participation is important. “The preaching at our Sabbath meetings should generally be short. Opportunity should be given for those who love God to express their gratitude and adoration.”16
Adoration: Celebrating the future as the Christian’s hope
Ellen White assigned to adoration an outstanding place in the final events. She viewed a time of testing, but also a better time of praise and adoration for the church. She also affirmed that the adoration experience will be projected toward eternity. She taught that worship of the Creator was at the root of the cosmic conflict between good and evil that started in heaven. It was Lucifer’s opposition to the Son being worthy of all worship just as the Father is that started the conflict in heaven, and it is this conflict that is at the root of sin on earth. Ellen White’s description of the final stages of the Great Controversy is one that centers on who will be the ultimate recipient of our worship: Christ or Satan? Between eternal life and eternal destruction stands the answer to that ultimate question.
Daniel Oscar Plenc (Ph.D., River Plate University) is director of the White Estate Research Center and teacher at the School of Theology, Universidad Adventista del Plata (River Plate University), Argentina. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
All works cited are by Ellen G. White.
1. Counsels for Parents, Teachers, and Students (Mountain View, California: Pacific Press Publ. Assn., 1943), p. 30.
2. The Great Controversy (Mountain View: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1911), p. 436.
3. The Desire of Ages (Mountain View: Pacific Press Publ. Assn., 1940), p. 189.
4. Prophets and Kings (Mountain View: Pacific Press Publ. Assn., 1943), p. 48.
5. The Upward Look (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publ. Assn., 1982), p. 38.
6. Steps to Christ (Mountain View: Pacific Press Publ. Assn., 1956), p. 103.
7. Christ’s Object Lessons (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publ. Assn., 1941), p. 299.
8. In Heavenly Places (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publ. Assn., 1967), p. 14.
9. Patriarchs and Prophets (Mountain View: Pacific Press Publ. Assn., 1971), p. 353.
10. The Great Controversy, p. 437.
11. Testimonies for the Church, Mountain View: Pacific Press Publ. Assn., 1948) 6:358.
12. Ibid., 5: 492.
13. Selected Messages (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publ. Assn., 1958), 2:42.
14. Gospel Workers (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publ. Assn.,1915), p. 357.
15. Testimonies for the Church, 5:609.
16. Ibid., 6:361.