The Wedding Band, Ellen G. White, and the Seventh-Day Adventist Church


A. The “Wrong” Way Versus the “Right” Way

The Wrong Way—for me—is to impose coercion in order to achieve conformity. This may be done overtly or covertly. Its most frequent manifestations are in refusing the “offender” the privilege of baptism, church membership, church office, or even social fellowship with other believers within the local church community. WBEGWSDAC 8.4

Ellen White made it clear while she was alive that “it is no part of Christ’s mission to compel men to receive Him. It is Satan, and men actuated by his spirit, that seek to compel the conscience....Christ is ever ... seeking to win by the revealing of his love ...but He desires only voluntary service, the willing surrender of the heart under the constraint of love.” 1 WBEGWSDAC 8.5

In 1906 (while the prophet was still alive), her son, Elder W. C. White, received a letter from an SDA member in Grand Rapids, Mich., inquiring as to the propriety of selecting as a church officer one who wore a wedding band. He replied: WBEGWSDAC 8.6

“In the teaching of the gospel we must always be outspoken regarding the principles of simplicity in dress, but we need not enter into the specific work of saying that individuals [who] wear the wedding ring...are to be disciplined by the church....I have seen very devoted, earnest people wearing the wedding ring, wearing the gold watch, wearing the gold chain, and I felt no burden to say to them, You must lay it off.” 2

In 1881 Ellen White wrote concerning another item in the category of dress, the “reform dress” which she had advocated for some time. Certain statements made concerning the attitude of some church members pressing this reform unduly in her day seem (to me, at least) to have somewhat of a parallel in the discussion today on the non-wearing of the wedding band: WBEGWSDAC 8.7

“Some who adopted the reform [dress] were not content to show by example the advantages of the dress, giving, when asked, their reasons for adopting it, and letting the matter rest there. They sought to control others’ conscience by their own. If they wore it, others must put it on. They forgot that none were to be compelled to wear the reform dress.”

“It was not my duty to urge the subject upon my sisters. After presenting it before them as it had been shown me, I left them to their own conscience.

“Much unhappy feeling was created by those who were constantly urging the reform dress upon their sisters. With extremists, this reform seemed to constitute the sum and substance of their religion. It was the theme of conversation and the burden of their hearts; and their minds were thus diverted from God and the truth. They failed to cherish the spirit of Christ and manifested a great lack of true courtesy.

“Some were greatly troubled because I did not make the dress a test question, and still others because I advised those who had unbelieving husbands or children not to adopt the reform dress, as it might lead to unhappiness that would counteract all the good to be derived from its use.” 3

An important distinction needs to be made between the teachings of the church and the tests of the church. WBEGWSDAC 8.8

William H. Branson, while President of the General Conference [1950-54], addressed the clergy of our church on this subject. He distinguished between Bible doctrines—the acceptance of which is a test of church fellowship, and therefore is required—and the teachings concerning certain standards—which the church advocates, but finally leaves to the individual conscience of the member (or prospective member). He wrote: WBEGWSDAC 9.1

“Some of these [latter] matters that are not tests for membership should be taught but not enforced upon the people. After proper instruction is given, then the matter of compliance must be left to the individual conscience.”

Not every teaching is a test. And he pointedly warned pastors and laity alike that for them to impose their own private tests of membership or officership in the church would serve only to “bring in confusion,” and would thereby make them out of harmony with the body of the church generally. 4 WBEGWSDAC 9.2

In 1984 Andrews University Professor Robert C. Kistler, in a slightly different context, came to the matter directly in his book on labor unions: WBEGWSDAC 9.3

“It is important to differentiate between what is a teaching of the church and what is a test of fellowship. The Seventh-day Adventist Church has some teachings which it encourages members to follow, but will not disfellowship them if they do not. Such teachings are regarded as a matter of individual conscience reflecting growth in grace rather than as a doctrine of the church. In addition to [the teaching against labor] union membership, such teachings would include the desirability of a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet; the teaching in North America against the wearing of wedding rings; the blessing that comes from giving generous offerings to the church’s program in addition to the practice of tithing, and similar points.” 5

It cannot be too strongly pointed out that: WBEGWSDAC 9.4

a. The Church Manual is the only constitution of the SDA Church.

b. Tests of membership and of officership for the church at large can only be voted by a General-Conference-in-Session (after which they are incorporated into the Church Manual).

c. The world church has never yet made the non-wearing of a wedding band either a test of baptism, or membership, or of officership.

d. For any local congregation, or conference, or union conference, to adopt (publicly, or privately) any other test than those published in the Church Manual is not only immoral but unconstitutional as well; and effectively places that unit of the church in rebellion against its duly constituted authority, leaving it wide open for disciplinary action by the next higher body!

What do I envisage as the Right Way? Ellen White, in her one-and-only published statement on the wedding band, laid down two conditions where it might be worn without her prophetic condemnation: (1) In countries “where the custom is imperative,” and (2) If persons in such places “can do so conscientiously.” Ellen White left the matter at the level of the individual, personal conscience. It is my own deep conviction that we should follow her example in this. Paul made it abundantly clear in Scripture that some issues are solely to be settled within the precincts of a man or woman’s own conscience. [See Romans 14:5] I believe that the minister should explain the whole matter to the member (or prospective member)—including good reasons for removing the wedding band [see below] in an atmosphere of love, kindness, and acceptance. It is an educational activity. But, once explained, the minister should leave it where God’s prophets have left it: at the altar of personal, individual conscience. That, for me, is the Right Way. WBEGWSDAC 9.5