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



There are perhaps five questions/issues that we must finally consider— WBEGWSDAC 13.6

1. The question of Perspective WBEGWSDAC 14.1

It is well for each Christian to keep the wedding band question (which, as already noted, is a part of the greater, overall dress question) in proper perspective. In 1883 the then-General Conference president; George I. Butler, wrote concerning the importance and necessity of keeping the various aspects of the dress question in an overall perspective: WBEGWSDAC 14.2

“The dress question should never be exalted to an equality with the great moral questions of the Bible, such as keeping the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus. Meekness, humility, charity, goodness, patience, and other Christian graces, are ever more important than the cut of the clothes we wear or the eating of certain kinds of food. We should give those subjects just the place God gives them in His word; and if we will notice closely, we shall soon discern that that place is not near so prominent as that which He gives to the great moral principles of His law, and the teachings of Christ. We claim that Sister White in her teachings has ever taken this position.” 1

2. The question of Motivation WBEGWSDAC 14.3

That God is generally more concerned with the motivation which prompts the deed, than with merely the deed itself, cannot be seriously challenged: WBEGWSDAC 14.4

“The Searcher of hearts weighs the motives.” 2

“It is the motive that gives character to our acts, stamping them with ignominy or with high moral worth.” 3

“Many acts which pass for good works ... will ... be found to be prompted by wrong motives.” 4

“It takes patience to keep every evil motive weeded from the garden of the Lord.” 5

If you tend to Favor the wearing of the wedding band, ask yourself, “Why?” Is it because you desire, like ancient Israel, to be like the nations around us, so that you will not appear singularly different? Is it because you desire to hide your identity as a Christian who is in the world but not of the world? Is it because you desire to draw attention to yourself (one of the main reasons God disapproves of ornamental jewelry)? Or is it because you desire to exhibit loyalty to your spouse, avoid, bringing discredit against the cause of Christ, and to meet the reasonable expectations of society? WBEGWSDAC 14.5

If you tend to Oppose the wearing of the wedding band, again, ask yourself, “Why?” Is it because you enjoy being the policeman of the church, and you enjoy castigating and censuring the “liberals” who “need to be straightened out”? Is it because such acts tend to reinforce your security found in self-righteousness, and a legalistic spirit affirms you as “good” because you do some good things? Is it because such opposition reinforces in you a conviction that you are better than others, and—like the Pharisee in Christ’s parable—you are thankful you are not as other men are? Or is it because you discern in the adoption of this custom a lowering of the necessary and important standards of the church, bringing its good name into question (if not disrepute), and diluting the effectiveness of its witness by the adoption of a custom which you discern to be a leavening influence among God’s people? WBEGWSDAC 14.6

Can you honestly face your motive, whatever your position may be? WBEGWSDAC 14.7

3. The question of Honesty WBEGWSDAC 14.8

Intellectual honesty is an absolute imperative. Can you pray—honestly and sincerely—this prayer suggested by Ellen White? WBEGWSDAC 14.9

“Each day, each hour, let the heart go out after God: ‘Here, Lord, am I, Thy property; take me, use me today. I lay all my plans at Thy feet; I will have no way of my own in the matter. My time is Thine; my whole life is Thine.’ Let the heart be constantly going forth to God for strength, for grace every moment.” 6

Now, while it is true that there are some places in the world where the wearing of the wedding band is not only appropriate but necessary, it is probably also true that there are some places where it is not yet necessary today. WBEGWSDAC 14.10

Ellen White clearly indicated that, in her day, there were places (the United States was particularly singled out) where—at that time—the custom was not imperative, obligatory, or necessary. In such places she saw the adoption of an unnecessary custom as a leavening agent within God’s people. And such (as history has since borne witness) it has become. It has, indeed and in fact, opened the door to jewelry generally. The wedding band itself has become conspicuously larger in size, has come noticeably more ornate, and has even become encrusted with precious and semi-precious stones—on the fingers of Seventh-day Adventist Christians. And it has paved the way for the tacit acceptance of other rings (engagement rings, class rings, friendship rings, etc.) on the hands of Seventh-day Adventist church members. With the lessening of opposition to the wearing of the wedding band on the campuses of some of our colleges in North America in the early 1970s, we find a more complex problem with jewelry in the early—and mid—1980s. WBEGWSDAC 15.1

4. The question of Attitude: WBEGWSDAC 15.2

The attitude of the individual church leader or member—whether such is for, or against—is crucial. In the context of the advocacy of diet reform, Ellen White wrote some counsel equally applicable to those who seek legitimate dress-reform: WBEGWSDAC 15.3

“We must go no faster than we can take those with us whose consciences and intellects are convinced of the truths we advocate. We must meet the people where they are. Some of us have been many years in arriving at our present position in health reform. It is slow work to obtain a reform in diet. We have powerful appetites to meet; for the world is given to gluttony. If we should allow the people as much time as we have require to come up to the present advanced state in reform, we should be very patient with them, and allow them to advance, step by step, as we have done, until their feet are firmly established upon the health reform platform. But we should be very cautious not to advance too fast, lest we be obliged to retrace our steps. In reforms we would better come one step short of the mark than to go one step beyond it. And if there is error at all, let it be on the side next to the people.” 7

“Our ministers and teachers are to represent the love of God to a fallen world. With hearts melted with tenderness let the word of truth be spoken. Let all who are in error be treated with the gentleness of Christ. If those for whom you labor do not immediately grasp the truth, do not censure, do not criticize or condemn. Remember that you are to represent Christ in His meekness and gentleness and love. We must expect to meet with unbelief and opposition....But though you should meet the bitterest opposition, do not denounce your opponents....We must manifest patience, meekness, and long-suffering.” 8

“In the advocacy of the truth the bitterest opponents should be treated with respect and deference....Therefore treat every man as honest.... The influence of your teaching would be tenfold greater if you were careful of your words. Words that should be a savor of life unto life may by the spirit which accompanies them be made a savor of death unto death. And remember that if by your spirit or your words you close the door to even one soul, that soul will confront you in the judgment.” 9

“Be sure that you do not make the word of the Lord offensive. We long to see reforms, and because we do not see that which we desire, an evil spirit is too often allowed to cast drops of gall into our cup, and others are embittered. By our ill-advised words their spirit is chafed, and they are stirred to rebellion. Every sermon you preach, every article you write, may be all true; but one drop of gall in it will be poison to the hearer or reader....[We should use] words that will reform but not exasperate. The truth is to be spoken in love.” 10

Paul advises us that the three greatest gifts, or qualities, or attributes, in the Christian life, when all is said and done, are faith, hope, and love. But even here, one is more important than another: “The greatest of these is love.” [1 Corinthians 13:13, emphasis supplied] If (God forbid!) one is forced to choose between the doctrines and standards of the faith, and Christian love, then love would have to be the most important. (It is not, however and fortunately, an either/or dichotomy!) WBEGWSDAC 16.1

5. The question of Conscience: WBEGWSDAC 16.2

Whether the custom of wearing the wedding band in the United States in the 1980s is as of imperative obligation as it was in Australia in the 1890s (when and where Ellen White permitted it), is probably an issue that today cannot be objectively “proven.” The human mind is perfectly capable of believing anything it wants to believe; and the corollary also is true; as Ben Franklin once suggested, “Man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.” WBEGWSDAC 16.3

Ellen White left the matter of the wearing (or non-wearing) of the wedding band, in her day, at the altar of conscience. Her example is safest for us to follow today. Let us leave it where she left it. WBEGWSDAC 16.4

But let us also be sure that our conscience today is alive, active, acute, and operating well; may it not be slumbering, or—worse yet—seared with a hot iron. [1 Timothy 4:2] WBEGWSDAC 16.5

The only safe course for any Christian to follow is to inquire of the Lord, in the quiet privacy of the soul, “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?” And our only safe response, after our Lord answers this prayer (and He will, if we are totally honest with Him), is that of Mary of Nazareth at the wedding feast of Cana: “Whatsoever He saith unto you, do it!” [John 2:5] WBEGWSDAC 16.6

By all means, let us have convictions. And let us express these convictions to others who may not share them—in the right manner. But let us validate our convictions by the inspired word, let us evaluate our logic and our argument by reason, and let us validate our evidence by demonstrable fact. But let out advocacy be always in love, being “ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.” [1 Peter 3:15] And then, having given our reason, let us kindly, lovingly, leave the matter at the altar of individual conscience. WBEGWSDAC 16.7

“As for me and my house,” after having weighed carefully all of the evidence, pro and con, in the light of what I hope is an enlightened and progressively sanctified conscience, my personal position, policy, and practice—in North America—continues to remain one of endeavoring to persuade our members and prospective members to discard the practice of wearing the wedding band. Having said that, I must say more: WBEGWSDAC 16.8

I am totally persuaded that this must be done in the right way, and for the right reason. And in the end, the member (or prospective member) must “be fully persuaded in his own mind.” [Romans 14:5] And, ultimately, the decision of what you will do must be left with you, to be made prayerfully as well as personally, alone with God. And so I say to you, It is not wrong to have things of a sentimental value; and many who no longer wear their wedding bands in public retain them as a keepsake in a bureau drawer, to look at occasionally. Your church or your minister will not dictate your response. We ask only that you allow God to lead you—totally—in your decision. And whichever way you decide the matter, I will respect your decision, I will support your decision—even if opposite from my position, and I will accept you, totally, unconditionally, both as a person, and as a fellow brother or sister in Jesus, who, with me, is seeking to climb the upward path to eternal life. WBEGWSDAC 16.9

First Draft: Jan. 19, 1983 For circulation privately to White Estate Trustees and staff, for reaction and counsel WBEGWSDAC 16.10

Second Draft: Feb. 29, 1984 Presented to students in the SDA Theological Seminary, Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Mich., in GSEM 534 “The Writings of Ellen G. White,” on March 6, 1984 WBEGWSDAC 17.1

Third Draft: Maranatha, 9, 1984 For NAD study committee WBEGWSDAC 17.2

N.B. Drafts in 1983 and 1984 inadvertently contained a technical error. On pages 4 and 5 agenda proposals were inadvertently taken to be actual committee actions and were presented as formal actions. This draft corrects that inaccuracy, which is deeply regretted. R.W.C. WBEGWSDAC 17.3

Fourth Draft: Feb. 13, 1985 For GSEM 534 class discussion WBEGWSDAC 17.4

Fifth Draft: Nov. 29, 1987 For GSEM 534 class discussion WBEGWSDAC 17.5

Sixth Draft: Dec. 10, 1987 Minor editorial changes WBEGWSDAC 17.6