Those who are on a quest for an infallible church will be sorely disappointed, for there is no such thing.
Often, we here at Steps to Life are criticized for calling ourselves historic Seventh-day Adventists and not believing all that our pioneers believed. Ellen White, writing to the church in the official publication of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, The Review and Herald, at a time when most of the pioneer Adventist ministers were still alive, said, “We have many lessons to learn, and many, many to unlearn.” Ibid., July 26, 1892.
The Lord led William Miller and the Adventist pioneers to understand the heavenly sanctuary, the law of God, the Second Coming of Christ, the judgment, and many other things, but that does not mean there has been no growth since that time. The pioneer Adventists were still using calamine, mercury, and all manner of dangerous drugs, and many were still eating pork in the 1850s before light was given on the health reform. Many of them were still using tobacco in 1844. In fact, it is recorded that in 1850 when J. N. Loughborough went to a physician he was prescribed tobacco for a medicine. So, when we say we are historic Adventists, it does not mean we are exactly the way they were. We should have growth as time goes on and that involves learning new things and unlearning others.
“God and heaven alone are infallible. Those who think that they will never have to give up a cherished view, never have occasion to change an opinion, will be disappointed. As long as we hold to our own ideas and opinions with determined persistency, we cannot have the unity for which Christ prayed.” Ibid.
There is no infallible church. I am happy to say that from my little research I have discovered that the Protestant churches in general have never claimed infallibility. The Roman Catholic Church alone makes that claim.
Ellen White never claimed infallibility for herself or even for the Bible. Now that comes as a shock to some Adventists, because there is a sense in which the Bible is infallible. She believed that if everybody would take the Bible and read it for himself or herself and study it, even if they did not have the opportunity to be where the word of God is preached, that not one soul would be lost. The Bible is an infallible guide to salvation, but it is not infallible in an absolute sense; neither is the Spirit of Prophecy nor does it claim to be. Let me give you some examples.
Speaking of the same event, in the Old Testament the Bible mentions that 24,000 people died in one day (Numbers 25:9), and in the New Testament, referring to the same event, it says that 23,000 died (I Corinthians 10:8). There are unbelievers who list all the contradictions of the Bible to discredit the message of salvation. At one time Ellen White referred to a sanitarium that had 40 beds. A physician went to that sanitarium and counted the beds. He then wrote to Ellen White telling her she was wrong; there were only 39. He was then tempted to conclude that the Spirit of Prophecy was not inspired because of her mistake in the count. Both the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy use rounded numbers of which there are many illustrations.
As a sophomore at Walla Walla College, Walla Walla, Washington, U.S.A., and in my second year of Greek, we had an assignment to translate the whole book of Revelation verse by verse from Greek into English. Some students were surprised to find that Greek was not the apostle John’s native language but a second language. The book of Revelation was written while he was banished on the isle of Patmos. It was written in Greek because it was the language that most people could read. His native language was Aramaic, and because he was alone without a secretary, it was found that there were some grammatical mistakes in the Greek text. That bothered some people, although there is nothing wrong with the message he presented. Later, after he had been set free, he wrote the gospel of John. At that time he had access to a professional secretary, and the gospel is in well-written Greek.
Ellen White had only a second or third grade education, and in her original writings she made quite a few grammatical mistakes. Her husband James corrected them for her. Some people have a real problem with that. The message in the Spirit of Prophecy, just like in the Bible, if read, studied and followed, ensures that person will not be lost.
No one will come to the Day of Judgment and say to the Lord they were not given the right version and now they are lost. These incidental grammatical mistakes will not cause you to be lost. We need to understand this so we do not take extreme positions on inspiration as many Protestants have done. Some believe that the word of God, the Bible, is infallible in the original text and that all mistakes are due to copyist errors. Well, if you understand how the Spirit of Prophecy came, you understand the fallacy of that argument.
Referring to the “so called” infallible church, Ellen White says, “It is one of the leading doctrines of Romanism that the pope is the visible head of the universal church of Christ, invested with supreme authority over bishops and pastors in all parts of the world. More than this, the pope has arrogated [been given] the very titles of Deity. He styles himself ‘Lord God the Pope,’ assumes [has been declared] infallibility [unable to make a mistake], and demands that all men pay him homage. Thus the same claim urged by Satan in the wilderness of temptation is still urged by him through the Church of Rome, and vast numbers are ready to yield him homage.” The Great Controversy (1888), 50.
“Another step in papal assumption was taken, when, in the eleventh century, Pope Gregory VII proclaimed the perfection of the Romish Church. Among the propositions which he put forth, was one declaring that the church had never erred (it is infallible) nor would it ever err, according to the Scriptures. But the Scripture proofs did not accompany the assertion.” Ibid., 57. There were no Scriptural proofs. Scripture does not teach infallibility of the pope or the church.
If the church was infallible, then the book of Galatians would never have had to be written. Paul had to rebuke Peter because of his faults (Galatians 2:11–14). How could Peter, who made many mistakes, pass on infallibility to his successors if it was something he did not have himself?
“The proud pontiff also claimed the power to depose emperors, and declared that no sentence which he pronounced could be reversed by anyone, but that it was his prerogative to reverse the decisions of all others.” Ibid. On what did the papacy base their claim for infallibility?
The Jews made their claim to infallibility and the infallibility of their organization on the basis of Jeremiah 31:35–37: “Thus says the Lord, Who gives the sun for a light by day, the ordinances of the moon and the stars for a light by night, Who disturbs the sea, and its waves roar (the Lord of hosts is His name): ‘If those ordinances depart from before Me, says the Lord, then the seed of Israel shall also cease from being a nation before Me forever.’ Thus says the Lord: ‘If heaven above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, I will also cast off all the seed of Israel for all that they have done, says the Lord.’ ” That passage was used over and over again to prove that they were the true church, and because Jesus did not accept them, He could not be the Messiah.
The papacy made its claim to infallibility also based on an inspired statement in the words of Jesus Himself. In Matthew 16:17–19, it says, “ Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’ ”
The keys to the Kingdom of Heaven are the words of Jesus. Those words were written down by the apostles and have been recorded in the New Testament. When the gospel is preached, everybody gets bound and everybody gets loosed. Let me explain how it works.
You hear the gospel and accept it. You are bound to Christ with cords; bonds that will never be broken. “Laying up treasure in heaven will give nobility to the character; it will strengthen benevolence, encourage mercy; cultivate sympathy, brotherly kindness, and charity. It will unite the soul of man with Christ, by links that can never be broken.” The Review and Herald, September 18, 1888.
In fact, your relationship to Christ will be closer than angels that have never fallen. “Because we believe and act out that we are members of the Royal Family, children of the Heavenly King, bound to Jesus.” Mind, Character and Personality, vol. 1, 175.
But, you will also be loosed. If you accept the gospel, you will be loosed from the slavery of sin. You will be loosed from your guilt and released from the power of sin in your life. “So ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound—think of it—for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath?” Luke 13:16.
If you accept the gospel, you will be bound, and you will be loosed. But what if you hear the gospel and you reject it? You will also be bound. You will be bound with the cords of your sin so that you cannot get free. The Bible is very clear about this. But, you will also be loosed. If you reject the gospel, you will be released from any hope of everlasting life. Everyone that hears the gospel is bound and loosed.
But let’s look carefully at Matthew 16:18: “And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” The Catholic Church claims this text as proof that their church is eternal—forever. I love the way that text is written, “the gates of Hades will never prevail against it.” The New Testament was written in human language. Hades is a word from Greek mythology. The Greeks did not understand the state of death and had been deceived just like the Egyptians. Ellen White stated that as soon as Adam and Eve sinned, the devil instructed his angels that they were to convince men that they had immortality. (See The Great Controversy, 534.) People had to be convinced that something within them still went on living after they died. The different nations had different names for it. In Egypt it was called Ra. It was the belief of immortality of the soul.
Hades was believed to be a place under the earth that is very hot where people go for punishment. During the last two hundred years before Jesus was born, the Jews had begun to study Greek Philosophy and Jesus used that very theory, wrecking it for them when He showed them that all their ideas about it were not going to work. The story He told was of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16.
The idea was that when you died you went to Hades to be purified. It was a precursor to the theory of purgatory that came along later. If you were really bad, instead of going to Hades, then you could be cast clear down to Tartarus, which in Greek mythology was lower than Hades. It is interesting that the word Tartarus is used once in the New Testament. The apostle Peter says that God cast the angels that sinned down to Tartarus; in other words, a place lower than the grave, Hades. Hades was a place of the dead, so when the New Testament uses Hades, it is talking about the grave.
When it says the gates of Hades are not going to prevail against Christ’s church, it means the grave is not going to prevail against Christ’s church, because Jesus is coming back and all of His people will be set free from the grave. That is going to be exciting. Though you may die, it is just a temporary sleep, for if you are in Christ, you will be raised up again.
The Catholic Church claims this text to prove she is infallible. However, there is a condition that somehow people forget. The church is built on the rock. Though the Catholic Church claims to be built on Peter and Peter is the rock, there is a problem. The New Testament was written in Greek. The Greek language is like Spanish and German and French that have masculine and feminine words.
A masculine or feminine word must also have a masculine or feminine adjective. Jesus said in Matthew 16:18, “I say to you that you are Petras [a stone, a Greek masculine word], and upon this Petra [a large boulder or rock, a feminine word] I will build My church.” The genders of the words do not agree. Petra is not the same word as Petras. The closest you could come to it in English would be: “I say unto you, you are Mr. Rock, and on this Mrs. Rock I will build My church.” Jesus did not mean that the church was built on Peter.
Peter himself recognized that. He said, “Therefore it is also contained in the Scripture, ‘Behold, I lay in Zion a chief cornerstone, elect, precious, and he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame.’ Therefore, to you who believe, He is precious; but to those who are disobedient, ‘The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone,’ and ‘a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.’ They stumble being disobedient to the word, to which they also were appointed.” I Peter 2:6–8.
Peter never taught that he was the rock on which the church was built. He taught that Jesus was that Rock. Paul also is very specific about this. He tells the people in Ephesus that they are members of the household of God; then describes the church: “Having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being [joined] fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.” Ephesians 2:20, 21.
The church, built on the Rock, Jesus Christ, is the only one that will not fall, and the gates of Hades or the gates of the grave will not prevail against it.
Jesus said, “Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock. But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: and the rain descended, the floods came, and winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall.” Matthew 7:24–27.
The church that is built on the Rock obeys the teachings, the words of Jesus. To the church claiming to be infallible based on a misunderstanding of Scripture, God says, “Another angel followed, saying, ‘Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.’ ” Revelation 14:8.
“He cried mightily with a loud voice, saying, ‘Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and has become a dwelling place of demons, a prison for every foul spirit, and a cage for every unclean and hated bird! For all the nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth have become rich through the abundance of her luxury.’ And I heard another voice from heaven saying, ‘Come out of her, My people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues.’ ” Revelation 18:2–4.
While the Christian world today is saying, “Let’s all get together,” God is saying, “Come out, because there is sin in the camp, and if you participate in the sin you are also going to participate in the plagues.”
God continually sends the church, through both the Old and New Testaments, a message of rebuke and reproof, appealing to them to forsake their sins and be saved. It is dangerous to be in a church that is in open sin, be aware of it, and get used to it so that it doesn’t bother you anymore. By supporting it with time, money and influence, you endorse the errors and share in its guilt.
Jesus says, “Come out!” It’s very interesting that in the Roman Catholic Bible, it says, “Go out.” In the Protestant Bible it says, “Come out.”
To participate in giving the last warning message to the world, you must understand that Babylon is fallen and what has caused her to fall.
“Thus the message of the third angel will be proclaimed. As the time comes for it to be given with greatest power, the Lord will work through humble instruments, leading the minds of those who consecrate themselves to His service. The laborers will be qualified rather by the unction of His Spirit than by the training of literary institutions. Men of faith and prayer will be constrained to go forth with holy zeal, declaring the words which God gives them. The sins of Babylon will be laid open. The fearful results of enforcing the observances of the church by civil authority, the inroads of spiritualism, the stealthy but rapid progress of the papal power—all will be unmasked. By these solemn warnings the people will be stirred. Thousands upon thousands will listen who have never heard words like these. In amazement they hear the testimony that Babylon is the church, fallen because of her errors and sins, because of her rejection of the truth sent to her from heaven.” The Great Controversy, 606, 607.
Babylon falls because of her errors and sins. Now we’re not talking about a sin of stumbling or a sin that’s committed by mistake. These are not sins of ignorance or a sin of stumbling but because of open sin of which she refuses to repent and forsake. The true church is to be organized, but the organization is not the true church. The organized body of Christ is the church of God by profession, but character determines whether that profession is true or not.
Martin Luther, John Calvin and all of the reformers who were at one time staunch Roman Catholics had been taught that their church was the spouse of Christ; it was infallible. Finally, they figured out that with all that was happening it could not be the true church. Then who and what is the true church?
Ellen White quotes what Melanchthon said: “In the days of the Reformation, the gentle and pious Melancthon declared, ‘There is no other church than the assembly of those who have the word of God, and who are purified by it.’ ” The Spirit of Prophecy, vol. 4, 237. A profession is not enough!
“God has a church. It is not the great cathedral, neither is it the national establishment, neither is it the various denominations; it is the people who love God and keep His commandments.” The Upward Look, 315.
“From the beginning, faithful souls have constituted the church on earth.” The Acts of the Apostles, 11.
And then this shocking statement about Adventists: “Those who become confused in their understanding of the Word, who fail to see the meaning of antichrist, will surely place themselves on the side of antichrist.” “Ellen G. White Comments,” The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, vol. 7, 949.
“Those who keep God’s commandments, those who live not by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God, compose the church of the living God.” Ibid.
You see, the issue is not if you make a profession, because the true church not only makes a profession but they have a character that is in harmony with their profession.
[Bible texts quoted are NKJV translation.]
Pastor John J. Grosboll is Director of Steps to Life and pastors the Prairie Meadows Free Seventh-day Adventist Church in Wichita, Kansas. He may be contacted by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or by telephone at: 316-788-5559.