“Sacerdotalism” comes from the French word for a priest, sacerdos. Sacerdotalism is the belief in the holiness or higher spiritual level of a priesthood. Raised a Roman Catholic, I can well testify to the elevation of the priesthood above the level of mere mortals. Roman Catholics firmly believe, “Once a priest, always a priest.” This concept requires the belief that the act of ordination confers on a man superior spiritual power and status that he does not naturally have.
An outgrowth of this theology is that priests can virtually do no wrong, but it was Jesuits who took the idea of the sacredness of the priests to new levels. Father Benzi even reasoned, starting from the premise of sacerdotalism, “It is only a slight offense [for a priest] to feel the breasts of a nun.” The Secret History of the Jesuits, 65
Martin Luther recognized the true essence of Roman Catholicism: “The authority of the Roman Catholic Church is built on the sacraments as the exclusive channel of grace and on the exclusive control of these by the clergy. The Church has become synonymous with the clergy; the congregation was not considered an integral part of it, merely an outside beneficiary and subject to it.” Luther Alive, Simon, Doubleday 1968, 223. Thus he clearly recognized that sacerdotalism, the prerequisite for sacramentalism, leads to a papal, authoritarian church.
“Above all, he [Luther] tried to carry out two fundamental innovations: the abolition of celibacy and the transfer to congregations of the right to elect pastors.” Road to Reformation, Boehmer, Muhlenberg Press, Philadelphia, 1946, 337
In attacking celibacy, Luther was really attacking church authoritarianism; but he went even farther. He said, “Every Christian is himself able and empowered to proclaim the Word of God. But just because everyone has this right, no individual may put himself forward and exercise this right without the approval and command of the others. The official exercise of this right is to be regarded as a service entrusted to someone by the Christian community, and consequently it can also be withdrawn again. In this respect it is like the office of burgomaster or other offices of shorter or longer tenure. If a clergyman is removed from his office by the community for any cause whatsoever, he once again becomes a peasant or burgher like other people.” Ibid., 338, 339
In his Notes on the New Testament (comments on Revelation 13:6, 1812 edition, 363), John Wesley cites the fact that in 1143, Celestine II was “by an important innovation, chosen to the popedom without the suffrage of the people, the right of choosing the pope is taken from the people, and afterwards from the clergy, and lodged in the cardinals alone.” Wesley cited this as evidence that the rise of the papacy was identical to the rise of the beast of Revelation 13! Thus he evaluates the action of removing the choice of pastor from the local congregation as satanic.
In about 1510, the French Reformation began at the Sorbonne with Lefavre. His doctrines, derived from Scripture, were essentially identical with those of Luther, even though Luther was not heard of in France for another five years. Lefavre passed the Protestant faith on to many disciples, one of whom was bishop Briconnet of the city of Meaux.
Briconnet embraced and spread the truth of the reformed doctrine until he was brought face to face with the threat of being burned at the stake. Sadly to say, he recanted; but “among the disciples at Meaux was a humble wool-comber of the name of Leclerc. Taught of the Spirit, he was ‘mighty in the Scriptures,’ and being a man of courage as well as knowledge, he came forward when Briconnet apostatised, and took the oversight of the flock which the bishop had deserted. Leclerc had received neither tonsure nor imposition of hands, but the Protestant Church of France had begun thus early to act upon the doctrine of a universal spiritual priesthood.” Wylie, History of Protestantism, vol. 2, 143 [Emphasis supplied]
Clearly, in choosing a layman who had neither been a monk nor ordained, the simple Protestants of France have left us their record of their rejection of the doctrine of sacerdotalism.
The pinnacle of sacerdotalism is the popery. Wylie, in History of Protestantism, vol. 1, chapter 6, 88–93, documents one evil perpetrated upon the English people in the fourteenth century by this system. The pope claimed the right to appoint all religious officers throughout the world, and therefore would appoint whomever he chose to the pastorate of English churches. It was not uncommon for him to appoint nine and ten year old Italians, who spoke neither Latin nor English, to the pastorate of English churches, setting a large price for their sustenance. In the absence of the official “pastor,” an Englishman, willing to take the job for considerably less money, was appointed to act in behalf of the official pastor. The difference between that which was charged by Rome and that which the English pastor actually received was part of the revenue received by the pope. Using today’s monetary values, it might work like this. Pick out an ignorant Italian lad and set a annual salary of $100,000. Then delegate the job out to an Englishman for $30,000 per year. The pope then collects a net of $70,000 a year for nothing and keeps complete control of all of the churches in England.
In 1372, the English Parliament estimated that the pope was extracting five times as much revenue from England as was the King of England! Worse yet, as the pope was a Frenchman living in France at Avignon, and as there was a war going on between England and France, part of the English gold was being used to pay mercenaries to fight for France!
Sacerdotalism demands that the higher class have greater privileges. The Jesuits, who seem to outdo all other Catholics at carrying theology to extremes, have concluded that,
“If a Father, yielding to temptation, abuses a woman and she publishes what has happened, and, because of it, dishonors him, this same Father can kill her to avoid disgrace!” Secret History of the Jesuits, 65
Unfortunately, the plague of sacerdotalism has entered the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Even pastors who commit open sins, such as adultery, and even outright crimes, such as theft, go virtually unreproved. A case in point occurred in Arizona in 1988–1989. A pastor, with whom I am familiar, was caught in the act of stealing material with a value in excess of $400 from the local Sears store. The evidence strongly suggested that this was not the first time that he had been involved in such activities. Bail was posted, however, and after spending a night in jail, he was released. At the request of parties unannounced, a closed trial was held. Though by his own admission the pastor was found guilty, he apparently received only probation. Incredibly, this pastor never missed a single paycheck during the whole affair and was rapidly relocated to Southern California where he continued to serve as pastor!
New theology comes from the pastorate.
It is clear that the source for the new theology entering our churches is the pastors. In every case that I have personally seen, it is only the laymen who stand up and fight against the perverted new theology of the pastors. This is no accident. It is a product of sacerdotalism.
Let us not forget that it was not lay members who preached to Soviet Adventists that they should break Sabbath by sending their children to school on Sabbath. It was also the leadership of Soviet Adventism that told Adventists to break the sixth commandment by bearing arms in the military in the 1920s. It was the German Division officials of Adventism who told Adventists to take up arms in the First World War. The pattern is clear.
Celebration is introduced from the top down.
An even greater evil than the new theology is the celebration movement. This movement, by its very nature, contradicts the concept of an ongoing judgment in heaven. It was introduced, promoted, and pushed on our people by the leaders and pastors.
But the plot against the truth by the leaders of the organized structure goes much further. A friend of mine, before taking part in a conference-sponsored trip to Magadan (eastern seaboard of the former Soviet Union), reported that he was forbidden to bring any Russian materials not previously approved by the conference. When he arrived at his destination, all of the American arrivals were warned during their orientation session that two people from the previous group were sent home because they had brought literature to distribute. My friend, however, had taken a backpack loaded with Bible studies in Russian, as well as Russian Bibles. In addition, I had furnished him with a plasticized card that said, “Hi! I am a dumb American who does not speak Russian, and I have a free Bible and a set of Bible studies for you. If you want them, just smile and shake my hand.”
On a day when he had no work, my friend took his backpack with the ten Bibles and sets of lessons he had brought with him, out on the streets of Magadan. He soon met a young couple walking down the street and presented his card to them. They read the message and reread it again. After a brief consultation between themselves, they gave him a big smile and pumped his hand. Taking off his backpack he placed it on the ground. By the time he got it open and reached up to hand out the promised Bible and studies, there were ten sets of hands reaching out to receive the treasure!
Worse yet, a worker at a major independent Adventist facility reported on her recent (1993) trip to Odessa (in the Ukraine on the Black Sea) that upon questioning the people coming for baptism, it was revealed that they had no knowledge of the mark of the beast, the significance of Babylon in the Bible, and had not so much as heard of the seventh-day Sabbath. Not only did those people, prepared for baptism by Seventh-day Adventist evangelists, not have any knowledge of the three angels’ messages, they did not even know about the biblical Sabbath!
Scriptural authority for anti sacerdotalism is plentiful. Jesus said, “Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them. But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister.” Mark 10:42, 43
Peter wrote, “Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.” 1 Peter 2:5
The Bible firmly supports the priesthood of all believers, not the priesthood of a small minority. “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the praises of Him who hath called you out of darkness into His marvellous light.” 1 Peter 2:9
“And hath made us kings and priests unto God and His Father; to Him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.” Revelation 1:6
Martin Luther reasoned it this way: “The Christian does not need a human mediator to enter into relationship with God; and God, for His part, does not need such mediators to communicate with man. Every Christian is himself able and empowered to proclaim the Word of God. But just because everyone has this right, no individual may put himself forward and exercise this right without the approval and command of the others. The official exercise of this right is to be regarded as a service entrusted to someone by the Christian community, and consequently it can also be withdrawn again. In this respect it is like the office of burghomaster or other offices of shorter or longer tenure. If a clergyman is removed from his office by the community for any cause whatsoever, he once again becomes a peasant or burgher like other people. What distinguishes the clergyman from his fellow-burghers is merely the service which has been entrusted to him, not a special supernatural faculty (character indelibilis) which is bestowed in ordination and never again lost.” Road to Reformation, Boehmer, Muhlenberg Press, Philadelphia, 1946, 332, 333
Luther also explicitly denied the authority of the church to claim the power over sacraments: “But cannot the church, that is, the communion of true believers, create new sacraments of her own making?
“She cannot, for the church is not the creator of revelation, but the creature of revelation. She does not stand above, but under, the Word of God to which she owes her existence.” Ibid., 324
The Spirit of Prophecy speaks directly against both hierarchy and sacerdotalism.
“Special instruction has been given me for God’s people, for perilous times are upon us. . . . In the church, man’s power is gaining the ascendancy; those who have been chosen to occupy positions of trust think it their prerogative to rule.
“Men whom the Lord calls to important positions in His work are to cultivate a humble dependence upon Him. They are not to seek to embrace too much authority; for God has not called them to a work of ruling but to plan and counsel with their fellow laborers.” Testimonies, vol. 9, 270
The real job of the pastor in the church is spelled out for us. “Just as soon as a church is organized, let the minister set the members at work. They will need to be taught how to labor successfully. Let the minister devote more of his time to educating than to preaching.” Testimonies, vol. 7, 20
Clearly the Spirit of Prophecy yields a different view of the church than does the papacy!
It is the right and duty of the congregation to choose their own pastor. Considering the theological brain damage being inflicted on the unsuspecting by the pastors, it behooves all Seventh-day Adventist congregations to thoroughly inspect and test the theology of any pastor appointed them by the conference.
I have earlier cited the position and practice of the great Reformers in regard to laymen in the pulpit. The Spirit of Prophecy goes even farther. “There are times when it is fitting for our ministers to give on the Sabbath, in our churches, short discourses, full of the life and love of Christ. But the church members are not to expect a sermon every Sabbath.” Testimonies, vol. 7, 19
In closing, if we Adventists had put into practice what we have learned here, it would have put a rapid end to the errors and abominations brought in by sacerdotalism. In simply refusing to accept conference pastors who fail to preach unadulterated truth, we would have put a stop to their ability to introduce error and lead the people astray. This would have nullified the impact of the wolves that are currently running rampant among the flock and would have destroyed the main conduit for the new theology that is coming down from non-Adventist theologians that have instructed Seventh-day Adventist teachers and pastors.
May we Historic Adventists learn from the past!