Back when I was much younger, I was given some letters (letters, children, being how we spread church gossip before the Internet came along) circulated by a Seventh-day Adventist woman who claimed God had selected her to be a new prophet to our church. Some of the messages were just encouragements to re-embrace our enculturated Adventist apocalyptic.
A few were a bit more “out there”one of them, I remember, asserting that all the top officers of the denomination, including Neal Wilson, had been replaced by surgically altered Jesuit doppelgängers. I wanted to believe that God still speaks to humankind, but this messenger didn’t win my vote, especially when she revealed that she was suffering a brain tumorphysiological changes to which organ can have unpredictable behavioral consequences.
I learned then that there’s a small subculture of Adventists whose nonsense detectors don’t go off when they hear this kind of thingwho are, in fact, thrilled by it and who will bend their reality to believe it.
Lest you think this is all in the past, consider the contemporary prophetic career of a Seventh-day Adventist from California named Ernie Knoll. I knew about Ernie because among his worldwide following is a cluster of believers here in Ohio. Ernie had worked in hospital administration, but a few years back turned to publishing and speaking about his prophetic dreams.1
Ernie’s revelations weren’t necessarily controversial. Some were gentle and encouragingglimpses of heaven, for instance, or encouragement to stand fast in the end timesand they are quite nicely written. Not surprisingly, most of the dreams concern Adventist eschatology: predications of Jesus’ imminent return, specific and dramatic descriptions of the Time of Trouble (with an emphasis on balls of fire falling from the sky), and affirmations of distinctive doctrines in anticipation of Jesus’ return.
It is usualalmost expectedthat to those with new light God will at some point grant permission to receive tithes and offerings. Ernie had that revelation, too.
Eventually, some odder items showed up. One was the e-mail testimony of a prostitute named Candace who said she’d been picked up in a car by an angel and told to seek out Ernie Knoll, though she had no prior connection to him or our church.
Then there was an e-mail purporting to be from a panel of Adventist scholars and church leaders calling themselves the the Great Commission Council (the individual members wanting to remain incognito because some worked for the church) who’d met in a secret online forum to study Ernie’s dreams. The council, Ernie’s Web site said, went so far as to hire a private investigator to find ex-prostitute Candace, who, when without notice, council representatives came to her door, was able to welcome them by name because her angel had told her that they were coming. The council had largely accepted Ernie’s dreams as from Godto the point of suggesting that God was causing the ministry of one of Ernie’s critics to go broke because of his recalcitrance!
Then this week something new came up on the ministry’s Web site.
The 4 His People Ministry Board learned of some very disturbing information the week of July 15. This information has led us to believe that though the dreams appear to be of a supernatural source, we now believe that this source was of Satan. Along with the meetings being cancelled and no future meetings authorized by the board, please know that Ernie and Becky Knoll are suspended from any activity related to the 4 His People Ministry. Please cease contributing funds to this ministry.
For those of you who read the testimony and/or received emails from someone going by the name of “Candace,” we were able to determine through tracking email IP information that Ernie Knoll is “Candace,” When pressed, he admitted to this on July 21 at 2:43 PM in a phone call to two ministry board members. We have also determined that the “Great Commission Council” is also Ernie Knoll.
We urge everyone who has a “dream book” to throw it away, as we now understand that there are mind control elements in it. We sincerely apologize to all who have read and believed these messages.
I’m not happy to see anyone publicly exposed as a fraud, particularly someone who has been at least occasionally encouraging (which is more than you can say for a lot of us Adventists). But I’m glad the board members checked and balanced Ernie, even though those who believed Ernie and sent him money are disappointed.
Why are we Adventists such easy sells for this kind of thing? It is here expressed well by Linda Kirk, a friend of Ernie’s who’d already concluded he wasn’t a genuine prophet.
If Satan has a specific target in our world today, it would be the sincere, spiritually minded Seventh-day Adventist, who is sighing and crying for the abominations done in the land and in the church. They are open to prophecy because they believe in the Spirit of Prophecy. They are open to new light because Ellen White has said there will be new light. They are open to dreams and visions, because Ellen White had dreams and visions, and the Bible prophesies that this will take place in the last days. So, what deception could Satan use to reach this group?
Forgiving that note of grandiosity about us, Linda hits it on the noggin: we Adventists really want to hear the voice of God again. So much so that some will believe God is speaking even when the messenger seems a little fishy.
That may be why a few of Ernie’s followers were reluctant to give him up. One Web page (now removed) said, “We find it hard to give Satan the credit for the renewed love for God, the renewed expectation of the soon appearing of Jesus, and the sins that have been renounced and victory gained since reading the dreams.” That’s why I expect that despite the exposé, Ernie’s prophetic career might continue, even in the face of this disconfirmed expectancy.
It makes me wonder this: if God really were sending us prophetic messages, how would he get through to us? We are so very skeptical, far more than people in Ellen White’s time. In this era of microscopic scrutiny, could a real prophet survive debunking long enough to be heard?
Notes and References
1. This story is developing right now, so don’t be surprised if some links in this article aren’t active by the time you click on them. A number of documents have already been removed; I am linking to cached sites.
Loren Seibold is senior pastor of the Worthington, Ohio, Seventh-day Adventist Church. He also edits a newsletter for pastors for the North American Division Church Resource Center, called Best Practices for Adventist Ministry