The month of June 2017 saw the rise of a new Adventist “prophetess.” Daisy Escalante, the founder of an independent health ministry in Puerto Rico, claims to have been receiving dreams or visions from God for the Adventist Church. These messages have apparently been received since at least April 2017 but have only recently started circulating on the Internet.
All of Escalante’s “revelations” are found in about three hours’ worth of YouTube audios in Spanish; most of it appears to have been prepared in advance. The audio messages have caused considerable consternation among Spanish-speaking churches.
Escalante’s tearful admonitions present either an angel or Jesus speaking directly to her. They paint a dire portrait of the spiritual condition of the Adventist church; there’s a plethora of rebukes for its apostasy and repeated calls to reformation. The words “anathema” and “abomination” appear frequently. In an audio titled “The Destruction of My People Is Imminent,” she claims to be shown an Adventist church building from whose foundations emanate ghastly, winged beasts intent on devouring its members. In the same vision, a couple is seen in one of the rooms of the church in an adulterous relationship which symbolizes the spiritual state of the Adventist Church.
A common thread is the repetition of themes found in Ellen White’s writings. Escalante exhorts Adventists to leave the cities and their local churches where there is “too much sin” and move to the countryside. Like Ellen White, Escalante has an “accompanying angel” who warns about the impending “destruction” of the Adventist church. Escalante feels weak when receiving the revelations; the expressions “I was shown” and “I saw” appear frequently.
Descriptions of scenes which seem to parallel biblical passages fill large segments of the audios. Intertwined with what appears to be sincere appeals to sanctification, Escalante addresses the “old landmarks”: Jesus frowns upon Adventists who cook and iron their clothes on the Sabbath, condemns any type of adornment, and calls “female priests” an “abomination,” among other diatribes about lifestyle. A former edition of the Spanish hymnal Himnario Adventista without musical notation is called “inspired” while the new edition with musical notation is not inspired.
And there are the usual attempts at setting dates for the Second Coming. In an example of “soft dating,” Escalante states that Jesus is “one minute” away from putting on his royal robes to return as “King of kings and Lord of lords.” She then offers new light on the sequence of end-time events: the 3.5 years (1260 days) of Daniel and Revelation commenced on September 23, 2015, during Pope Francis’ visit to the U.S. and will come to an end in 2019 with the establishment of a national Sunday law. That same date in 2015 marks the beginning of the judgment on the living.
Escalante’s incoherent “testimonies” are far too long to analyze at length here. But an important pattern emerges in her experience: similarly to White’s contemporary Anna Rice Phillips (1865–1926), Jeanine Sautron in the 1980s, and more recently Ernie Knoll, all of Escalante’s messages are given in private. At one point, Escalante says that God purposely chooses to reveal things at night. Sautron’s songes et visions never underwent independent verification; Ernie Knoll claims to receive dreams.
It is undeniable that dreams were an important mode of divine communication in biblical times as in the case of Jacob (Gen 28:12), his son Joseph (Gen 37), Mary’s fiancé Joseph (Matt 2:12) and Pilate’s wife (Matt 27:19) to name a few. The interpretation of “prophetic dreams” at times required the intervention of an equally inspired third party, as in the case of Pharaoh and Nebuchadnezzar.
But dreams are also seen as questionable sources of revelation; Jeremiah 29:8 warns against listening to the dreams of prophets who lie in the name of the Lord: “See, I am against those who prophesy lying dreams, says the Lord, and who tell them, and who lead my people astray by their lies and their recklessness, when I did not send them or appoint them; so they do not profit this people at all, says the Lord” (cf. 23:25, 32). In Deut 13:1-4, prophetic dreams are mixed with error in order to “test” Israel.
Amidst the ostensibly chaotic, charismatic worship in Corinth, Paul requires that special revelations be interpreted by an equally inspired interpreter (1 Cor 14:27); otherwise, the recipients of said epiphanies should remain quiet. This provided an important control against claims of private revelations. “Prophecy,” warns Peter, is not the fruit of “one’s own interpretation” (2 Peter 1:20).
The reason for caution in the acceptance of dreams seems obvious: differently from visions, which can sometimes occur in public, dreams are largely personal occurrences which lie outside the tangible realm and whose validity cannot be independently verified; they exist solely in the visionary’s brain and befall in the dead of night. It is therefore curious, if not suspicious, that most of these self-proclaimed visionaries claim to have received dreams. Those who would like more evidence are then branded incredulous and themselves serve as fulfilment of the “apostasy” predicted in them. The dreams become a self-fulfilling prophecy, regardless of what they actually mean.
Case in point: in a comment on Facebook, Escalante’s husband derides the skeptics while claiming that thousands have been blessed by her messages. He condemns the “abominations” found in the “rebellious” Adventist Church.
As an Adventist, I always find it disconcerting to be confronted with binary, “yes/no” answers to these claims to the prophetic gift. “Could this be a fulfilment of the eschatological ‘dreamers’ predicted in Joel 2:28?” I wonder. For a church whose belief system is firmly moored in the manifestation of the eschatological “spirit of prophecy,” such ambivalent manifestations present a problem. For one, this belief makes Adventism especially vulnerable to itinerant “visionaries.” The irony for us is to outright reject any new, non-canonical prophet while simultaneously holding belief in a modern-day prophetess.
In a Spectrum article about the dreams of Ernie Knoll, Loren Seibold mused: “In this era of microscopic scrutiny, could a real prophet survive debunking long enough to be heard?” Jumping to conclusions presents two risks: too quickly accepting what is at best the mere fruit of Christian piety and at worst plain charlatanism/opportunism or rejecting what could, in fact, be a genuine gift. No doubt the apocalyptic framework attendant to these neo-prophecies complicates discernment for many.
1 John 4:1 recommends “testing the spirits” rather than embracing or outright rejecting them. The preferred proof-text against such new prophecies is Isaiah 8:20: “to the law and the prophets.” But what if the messages in and of themselves have nothing against “the law and the prophets” necessarily? What if they inspire other Adventists to re-consecrate their lives and join the “revival and reformation”? Would a pragmatic, fruits-oriented approach validate such voices as gifts of the Spirit?
Pentecostal denominations, where tongue-speaking, extemporaneous prophesying, and impromptu revelations are common, have surrendered their ecclesiological practices to easy interpretations of the biblical passages dealing with charismatic gifts and encourage a copy-and-paste mimicry of the goings-on of the Corinthian church.
Adventism has not been immune to these; as early as the 1860s, tongue-speaking, swimming, and crawling in the Spirit occurred sporadically in our ranks, as in the infamous case of Sammy Hancock. Since the epochal camp meetings in Indiana in the summer of 1900 when the holy flesh movement came to a head, Adventists have sought to keep a great distance from this species of “fruits of the Spirit” lest we start down a slippery slope and end up meddling in the “occult.” We have ever since looked with suspicion at anyone claiming “new light,” be it in the form of supernatural revelations or new interpretations of Scripture. Our worship services are highly planned; spontaneous effusions of “the Spirit” are discouraged both in public and in private.
Thus the norm in Adventism has not been sympathy, but a knee-jerk rejection of contemporary prophets (a reaction that is not necessarily new; cf. Mark 6:4). Ellen White herself encountered significant opposition early on to the point that joining the fledgling band of Sabbath-keepers (ca. 1860) did not require acceptance of her gift (cf. Testimonies, vol. 1, p. 328). In time, however, her superior gift became the template against which new prophets were tested.
When Ellen White passed away in 1915, we lost our Urim Thumim. There have since been dozens of self-proclaimed prophets in Adventism, and all of them have so far been considered spurious, in part because they somehow contradicted Ellen White. Her books, the very source of most of the imagery used by these “prophets,” turned out to be their Achilles heel. Thus, Adventism’s belief in the eschatological “spirit of prophecy” has been safely circumscribed to the prophetic ministry of Ellen White, 1844-1915.
Our early experiences with the charismatic honed our skills to test these manifestations; we have our own, no-nonsense checklists before we can accept their divine origin. Some of these “revelations” are childish (e.g., Jesus warns Escalante to respect a snail); others are inconsequential religious expression. Many repeat prior revelations.
Still others are plainly absurd, as in the case of the four Adventists from Hamburg, Germany in the 1960s. They claimed to have received independent revelations that the Adventist Church should join a so-called “League of the Friends of the Animals” and turn the care of animals into a central tenet of Adventist belief. At the behest of their heavenly messenger, they traveled to the “other side of the ocean” in search of an “ill, old wise man” and visited the GC headquarters to present their case.
Most of all, the church has profited little from these cases, except for the sharpening of our weapons against them. In the case of Escalante, her claims are demonstrably false: her unoriginal pontificating appears to be the product of ultra-conservative Adventist piety suffused with last-generation perfectionism, a critical, pharisaical bent cloaked in pseudo-celestial supplications, all of this bathed in a fertile, religious imagination and, perhaps, some unidentified personality disorder which enables her to lie with a straight face. And unfortunately, there still remains an audience for this kind of exercise in Adventism, one made up by those who live on the fringes, where unbalanced, self-serving views on eschatology, soteriology, and Christian living flourish.
At the end of the day, this fresh specimen of false prophesying cheapens the work of the Holy Spirit and reveals the flaws in many an Adventist’s understanding of that gift. It appears then that, despite their inherent falsity, such claims to the prophetic gift will likely continue to test our understanding of the eschatological “spirit of prophecy” and its implications for the church.
André Reis has published articles and book chapters on theology, church history, worship, and music. He has recently finished a PhD in New Testament at Avondale College.
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