THE ROLE OF ELLEN WHITE'S WRITINGS
Ellen White was a modern-day prophet. She didn't have miraculous powers to heal the sick; nor did she claim to be the voice of God. In fact, she didn't call herself a prophet because she didn't want people deifying her. In her own eyes, Ellen was somebody who loved God more than anything else, and wanted others to share that love through the study of Scripture, prayer and simple living.
Her writings are not doctrinal in nature, but are instead advice for living simply, focusing on the Kingdom of God, and some elaborations on Scripture (the Conflict of the Ages series is a good example). There are times where she changed her mind (the Righteousness by Faith controversy of the last quarter of the 19th century), and other times when she gave advice that is no longer applicable (bicycles, for instance - Testimonies for the Church, vol. 8, pp. 50-53). Just as God works within the confines of culture rather than counter-culture, Ellen White's messages are contingent on the culture of the time. God revealed specific knowledge to her when the time was right to do so, proving that a quick study of Adventist history takes care of any "discrepancies".
Basing our doctrines on the writings of Ellen White would mean that we shouldn't eat meat, that we shouldn't ride bicycles, that we shouldn't wear dresses that drag the ground, and so on and so forth. But these "doctrines" would be present simply for the fact that they come from Ellen's writings, making them on par with Scripture. She said that she was not to be revered in such a way, and that anything she wrote was meant to draw us to Scripture and to God, for by faith and grace alone we are saved.
PROBLEMS WITH ELLEN WHITE
Nonetheless, people revere her more than they should. Just as the Apostle Paul, Ellen White was a human being. She is fallible because she was born into sin. Yes, she may have been God's messenger to a new denomination, but many people have misconceptions about her.
One misconception deals with church history. I would hazard a guess that many Adventist (and vast numbers of non-Adventists) say she founded the Seventh-day Adventist Church. That is simply not true. The SDA Church was originally a group of individuals with like-minded beliefs that got together and worshiped together. They emerged from the Millerite Movement, which would insinuate that Miller, not White, was the founder of the Church, or at least the "Adventist" part.
Joseph Bates is probably the name that people should look to for the founder of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. He actually convinced James and Ellen White that the Seventh-day was the true Sabbath. Still, I rarely hear his name dropped as a hero of Adventism. It's always Ellen White--not even her husband James, who wrote plenty as well, is named very often.
There seem to be two extremes when dealing with Ellen White. Her writings are either discounted (especially by so-called "progressive Adventists") or elevated to the level of Scripture. This is why some believe our doctrines are based on her writings. But if one were to examine the Twenty-Eight Fundamental Beliefs of Seventh-Day Adventists, one would see that this is not the case. Every one of our doctrines (and no matter what anybody says, these are ALL of our official doctrines) is backed by Scripture, not some passage from Ellen White's writings. This is because Scripture is the source for knowledge of the Divine. Without it, we would not know Jesus.
In conclusion, I do not deny that Ellen White was a prophet. Nor do I deny that her writings are divinely inspired. I will say that unless one reads them, one cannot understand them. There are issues like historical and cultural context that we need to take into consideration, just as we must when trying to understand the Bible. Many people don't read Ellen White's writings because they are downright difficult to understand. She uses 19th century English and always quotes the King James Version of the Bible. On top of that, she tends to write deeper and more meaningful advice than we are accustomed to understanding. We have always been told, "Know this, do that, behave this way," and it's killing our church. The departing youth see that there is no reason behind the traditions of the Church, and they solve the problem by doing one of three things: delving into study like me, throwing out what they don't understand or agree with like the "progressives", or just leaving the Church altogether and creating the age gap that we see.
"Always be joyful and never stop praying. Whatever happens, keep thanking God because of Jesus Christ. This is what God wants you to do. Don't turn away God's Spirit or ignore prophecies. Put everything to the test. Accept what is good and don't have anything to do with evil" (1 Thessalonians 5:16-22, CEV).
Your Brother in Christ,