A Catholic's Response to When We Get It Wrong

Editor’s note: Courtney Ray’s recent column addressed issues concerning the Seventh-day Adventist Church internally but also touched on issues of Catholic theology. In the spirit of productive interfaith dialogue, the following is a response from a Catholic perspective.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/11286

Funny, isn’t it, that we get all exercised about papal infallibility when so many Adventists believe in White infallibility? Why, many even look to her to tell us what the Bible says. Something about pot and kettle…Something about eyes and splinters and logs…Something about how God might actually deign to speak to the spiritual leader of 1.3 billion Catholic Christians as as much as to Adventists.


John Martigoni has raised some important issues in his response to the article written by Courtney Ray. Seventh-day Adventists have often misunderstood Roman Catholic teachings and therefore they have often misrepresented those teachings. In truth, there are only two times in Roman Catholic teaching when teachings are thought to be infallible. One time is when the Bishop of Rome (the Pope) speaks ex cathedra. The other time is when the College of Bishops speaks in magisterium. He is correct that in a sense that we have failed to understand that an individual view of a Roman Catholic cleric may not represent an infallible teaching of the Roman Catholic Church.

He is guilty of the same error in understanding the SDA denomination. The individual view of a SDA cleric may not represent the official teaching of the SDA Church. Ted Wilson is the current President of the SDA denomination. Yet he is considered by some SDAs to hold views that are both wrong and outside the official teachings of the SDA Church. In brief, the official teachings of the SDA church are confined to a few short statements voted by the General Conference when meeting in session. Everything else, to include expanded descriptions of those voted statements represent the thinking of individual SDAs and are not required to be generally accepted. Therefore, as is well known, Seventh-day Adventists hold to a wide range of belief and practice.

It is true that Martigoni correctly states that the Bishop of Rome may at times be wrong in his individual beliefs; it is also true that from the beginning to the present, SDA leaders have been in error as to their individual beliefs. James White, Ellen White, and other early SDA leaders were wrong in their understanding of the Trinity. This is just one example.

However we SDAs must take some responsibility for the reality that others may misunderstand our teachings. We often act and talk like our individual views are the official teachings of the SDA Church. As an example we often act like Ellen White was an infallible expositor of the Bible, when in actual fact, she denied that’s she was infallible. When we do such we do disservice to both her and to the SDA Church.

In short, John Martigoni correctly calls upon us to clean up our act.


The writer says: So, papal infallibility does not mean the Pope is infallible in every and all of his actions and decisions, or even in all of his teachings.
Well, I am really having problems to understand this statement.

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Even the Pope is required to go to Confession and has a priest to whom the Pope confesses his sins on a regular basis.

Roman Catholic belief expressed in paragraph # 827 teaches that: “All members of the Chruch, including her ministers, must acknowledge that they are sinners.”

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Gratulations to the editors of Spectrum for giving the opportunity to a Catholic to respond to the mistaken accusations made not only by Courtney Rey but by most Adventists guided by conspiracy theories about Catholicism.


There is only one way to look at this exchange - it’s a total win win for both the SDA’s and the Catholic’s. Anytime two people or groups with differences can talk and remove misunderstandings that’s a really good thing. Spectrum should be credited mightily for allowing the truth to prevail over a talking point. This was noteworthy and appreciated.


I’d love to hear this author’s views on righteousness by faith.

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Have you checked a catechism?

For an expanded answer to the question, the following link takes you to an answer published in Catholic Answers:

Righteousness Done Right | Catholic Answers

Could we imagine what would happen if we ever got it right? Could this also teach us that God loves all of His children irrespective of their religion and until we love them and respect them as Jesus asks us to do, we are not following Him? I think it surely does!


Thanks, John Martignoni.

You said:

Like @Gustave, I, too, deem your published response, here, in an SDA publication, a win-win; one I hope Catholic media will return.

I also think it’s a credit to the unique character of Spectrum this is possible; in The Adventist Review, your thoughts would probably be limited to the letters section.

Like @Lindy, I’d welcome hearing your views on other doctrines, e.g., righteousness by faith, or, particularly, other SDA ones; e.g., our denomination’s teachings on Sabbath, or Revelation 13.

However, like @john_becejac, I, too, have problems understanding this statement, above.

In advance, I ask you to forgive the tone of the following questions, below, as they may come across as impertinent.

I do not mean to be ill-mannered, but I am attempting to make exactly the query for which I seek an answer. I do not want to miss out on the opportunity to benefit from your knowledge, on the basis of having not worded precisely what it is I want to know.

With all due and appropriate respect, when you say…

…you’re not saying the Pope is bound not to teach such errors, but that he is incapable of doing so. Correct?

If the latter:

a) How; i.e., by what mechanism is this the case?

b) Why should anyone believe this; in other words, why should anyone who believes in Christ, but who doesn’t believe in Catholicism, think this is real?

Further, you say:

The answer is yes. Unfortunately, there are many people in our SDA denomination who believe — persuaded by a lifelong process mostly invisible to the majority of Adventists — if Ellen G. White stated it, it is true.

SDAs have a sole, distinctive belief; namely, the Investigative Judgment, which is part of our doctrine of the Sanctuary. All of our other doctrines are shared, in various proportions, with other churches.

It may be an overstatement, then, and/or an error, to think that Ellen G. White is the source of SDA doctrine, or its assemblage into a 28-part “statement of beliefs,” as we currently possess.

However, to the thrust of your question, yes, again: All of SDA doctrine may be false. As @Gregory stated, Ellen White, herself, denied possessing infallibility; i.e., either she or the church.

In Counsels to Writers and Editors, a 1946 compilation of her writings on various topics, she says:

“There is no excuse for anyone in taking the position that there is no more truth to be revealed, and that all our expositions of Scripture are without an error. The fact that certain doctrines have been held as truth for many years by our people, is not a proof that our ideas are infallible. Age will not make error into truth, and truth can afford to be fair. No true doctrine will lose anything by close investigation.”

She added:

“We have many lessons to learn, and many, many to unlearn. 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.”

So, to your final question:

As my post may evidence, I don’t think you’ve clearly explained this idea.

But even were you to do so, I’m not sure if the denomination, on the basis of your word, or maybe any Catholic’s, would state something else; we may embody our own version of Dictatus papae principle 22.

Born and raised a Seventh-day Adventist, I grew up with the understanding that our comprehension of scripture was the best and most accurate in Christianity, and, most of all, true.

(I don’t know where I got these ideas; no one ever said them to me. They just seemed to be in the water. I mean, unlike the 3rd grade teacher who told our class that all the other countries in the world had once conducted a vote, and agreed that the United States’ flag was the most beautiful.)

Further, I believed, as the remnant church of Bible prophecy, SDAs served a unique, present and futuristic role in the Christian ecosphere.

In middle-age, I am still a practicing Seventh-day Adventist, in good and regular standing. I have never “backslidden,” or been anything else.

But I no longer believe these ideas about Adventists or Adventism.

I do believe SDAs have the potential to play a unique role, perhaps, in the Christian world. (Indeed, I believe most of the Bible, except in reference to Christ, is about human potential, whatever the honorific any person is given.)

We are a fast-growing denomination. We are global; in every country the U.N. recognizes. We have an educational system that is second in size to Catholics, only. We have a focus on temperance and health that has marked us among the longest-lived people on the planet.

However, Paul said to the church at Corinth, without love, all of these attributes make one, at best, a “resounding gong or a clanging cymbal,” and, at worst, “nothing.”

I don’t think that my church is even in the same galaxy, when it comes to the love Christ showed. I say this because I’m not.

So, no, we are not infallible; certainly, not in any way that God recognizes. Whether we change for the better is a decision we make one at a time.


This is a great example of allowing others to speak/represent for themselves. When we continually speak on behalf of others we become so prideful.

If one accepts that Acts 15,28 was not an error and that the Catholic Church is the direct outgrowth of the Apostolic Church its logical to conclude that the Church Christ founded was indeed visible and had the authority promised to it by our Lord. I realize the squabble documented in Acts 15 took place a long time ago but to the people involved - - - salvation was claimed to be on one side of the argument. Imagine what would have happened had there existed multiple bodies of Christ with contradictory answers coming back from “leadership”. Important to note that Catholic believe that the Apostolic Church WAS the Catholic Church.

I’m not the caliber of apologist John is but I can tell you from my limited understanding that your understanding of righteousness by faith is significantly closer to Catholicism than it is to what a Baptist or run of the mill Evangelical would say it is.

I have no beef with SDA’s special devotion to the Sabbath, it’s admirable IMHO. My issue only comes from the proclivity [some] SDA’s have in assigning sinister (Satanic) motives for the reason Christians assemble themselves together on Sunday.

As for other distinctive Adventist Doctrines the ones that stand out to me as incorrect is the mutability of Christ and other specific things pertaining to the Trinity Doctrine such as Christ having Deity on loan provided He towed the rope and Christ being “part of God” so that it could be said that had Christ sinned & had His deity removed part of God would be eternally lost.

Basically anything that departs from the first 7 Councils is generally concerning.

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Gustave, as you well know, for 38 years I served as a Federal chaplain (Military and VA) with the permission of the General Conference. During those 38 years I conducted many more worship services on "Sunday than I did on Saturday. God does not prohibit worship on any day of the week. The SDA Church that endorsed my Federal service never considered me to be in violation of SDA doctrinal beliefs in my conducting worship services on Sunday.

The core of SDA belief consists of a positive affirmation of Saturday as the Sabbath. Therefore I was in a SDA congregational worship service on Saturdays. This was true while I was assigned to service in South Korea and Panama, as well as the United States. As a world-wide denomination, I was able to worship with my fellow members wherever I was assigned and I did so, on Saturdays.

You also, probably know that in a couple of places on this planet, due to an issue with the International Dateline, SDAs officially worship along with Protestants and Catholics on a day that has been named Sunday, but, is considered to be the 7th day of the week by SDAs.


In Summary, this is Catholic rationalization of how Pope can be “infallible” even if he is not infallible. It essentially becomes the game of “no true Scotsman” with universal teaching.

If the teaching is wrong, then it’s not for all of the Church. If it’s correct, then it’s for all of the Church.

Hey. I can be infallible too when one cherrypicks what decisions of mine fall in scope of infallibility.


When it comes to the second part of the criticism, it seems like there’s an arrogant bank on certainty that gets all of the fundamentalists in trouble.

As humans we believe and have varying degrees of certainty in concepts we believe in. With that, we can be wrong about a broad range of beliefs that are out of reach to even verify. Our concept of God may be wrong and way off. Christianity may be wrong. That’s the only honest perspective as a human being with limitations.

Christianity isn’t and never was about absolute certainty. And no, just because we can be wrong about the core premises we believe in, it doesn’t make these meaningless … just because there’s someone out there is more arrogant and unaware of their own inherent limitations. Claiming that one’s knowledge comes from some perfect being or source doesn’t change that fact, especially if one can’t produce evidence for it and relies on mere axiomatic statements. And it’s even more suspect when one goes on to rationalize what they mean by perfection and infallibility.

Christianity is first and foremost about ideals of the highest order. And all of these don’t exist here and now, but these give us templates that can have humanity look up instead of down. That’s it. That’s the honest core and rationale for Christian belief. I don’t know if it’s true, but I believe it is true and I also believe the world can be better if I believe if it’s true.

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Gustave is a devout Roman Catholic who is an honest defender of the Christian faith as he understands it. He and I first became acquainted several years ago when he began to post in a semi-SDA Internet forum in which I have a leadership role. With the passage of time, we have become good friends, who happen to differ on some religious issues.

As he has openly stated, his major issues with SDA belief include the following:

History shows that any assertion of infallibility as it pertains to human activities or institutions has not gone well. To deny or doubt this fact is a misanthropic insult to our collective, god-given human intellect.

Having walked away from religion over 40 years ago convinced that an omnipotent god must have the power to speak with all of his creatures directly, I’d ask not only SDA’s and Catholics, but entirety of Christianity if they have the courage to do something even bigger and more important; admit they have misunderstood Jesus’ teachings from the very start and need to change their most fundamental assumptions about his good news?

It is a fact lost or ignored for the past few millennia that Jesus, himself—like Socrates— left us with nothing other than an oral tradition and the Holy Spirit to guide us in all truth. This as opposed to some purportedly sacred scripture or script which we could memorize and repeat as the occasion required. Also given is the realization that the only thing that changed after Jesus left was that there was no one there to tell any would-be “holy writer” that he or she was not authorized to speak for Jesus or god.

So the big question for organized Christianity is whether it can show, using anything other than hearsay, that Jesus really wanted to start another church? Or can the indeterminate number of Christian Branches unite long enough to point out how Nietzsche was wrong in claiming that the last “true” christian died on the cross?

For me, the gospel is that no one needs a book, preacher or church to tell him about our maker or to learn god’s plan for his life.

I will not hold my breath waiting for an answer to these questions and not because my doing so could never matter to those who insist that faith is necessarily a good thing—perhaps even the highest aspiration of men—unless, of course, one doesn’t share their faith, or has faith in something other than theirs, in which case, they flip the switch and insist that faith is essentially evil and bad!

I’ll instead observe that the net effect of Christianity’s, as well as every other book-based relgion’s, reticence to admit that the entirety of their house of cards edifice rests on logical fallacies and inherently contradictory assumptions (e.g., if god is all powerful how does he not have the power to interact with humans one on one?) is that humanity has dealt with the assertions of hundreds of divergent sects for thousands of years who—while having no conclusive evidence that their god is real, to say nothing of their insistence that they are the only ones who truly understand what god wants from everybody—repeatedly tell us they know the mind of the creator and insist on giving everyone else in the world some very small part of it!

(But no. That’s wrong. These groups absolutely do agree on one thing: that is that all the other sects or religions who disagree with them are wrong!)

One might think that after several millennia of this binary “them bad, we good”, projection en masse, people of a religious persuasion would see that their good intentions have yielded, at best, results no better than one might expect having tossed a coin.

However, even a cursory study of history shows that just the opposite has typically been the case. In actual practice, believers tend to double down on their hope that if they just keep doing the same thing over and over–or maybe if they believe what they believe somehow harder–this will somehow magically prove that their best efforts are something other than ongoing exhibitions of insanity.

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Thanks, @Gustave.

These are historical matters, on which I’m not expert.

What I will say is, to the degree the Catholic Church grew from the lineage of the peopled activities documented in Luke’s sacred history, and are a continuation of them, so be it.

Even if so, I don’t deem them as having any special or unique ecclesiastical authority at the present time. Any such jurisdiction is vested, first, in Jesus Christ, via allegiance to Him in thought, word, and deed (Acts 5:27-29).

That’s interesting and new.

  1. What is my understanding of righteousness by faith?

  2. What is a Catholic’s understanding of righteousness by faith?

  3. What is a Baptist or run of the mill Evangelical’s understanding of righteousness by faith?

We think that, as part of the Ten Commandments — like the directives against stealing, murder, adultery, and lying — the Sabbath rule is contemporary and calls for our unvarying regard.

We believe, based on the Bible, that God “hallowed” the Sabbath (Exodus 20:11); He made it holy. Thus, He conferred a unique stature to this day by virtue of His act; one He has never repealed, and, of course, one which cannot be duplicated or reassigned by human beings.

Other Christians can worship on other days, as they choose and deem fit, and no SDA should ascribe sinister motives to their assembly.

I don’t think that this is an Adventist doctrine. These sound like a set of fused conclusions certain persons may have reached based on their understanding of the Incarnation.

This document, “What Adventists Believe About God the Son,” is a fairly thorough, easy-to-read explication of SDA doctrine, as it pertains to Christ, His nature, and His salvific role.

This document, “What Adventists Believe About the Trinity,” is a shorter treatment that, naturally, includes elaboration of Christ’s role as part of the Godhead.

Such as?


Yes, its my understanding Ellen White reached these conclusions and subsequently promulgated them with velocity.

Those “Divine attributes” were said to be licensed to Christ - i.e. Christ could have lost them.

Contrary to the affirmations of the Councils Ellen White taught that the two natures of Christ were mixed or blended together so that had Christ sinned “part of God” would have died. Nicaea is also explicit that there was no possibility of mutation in Christ so that it could be said “he could have sinned”. Jesus was explicit prior to His death on the Cross what was going to happen to Him and in particular to this subject, HAD TO HAPPEN to Him. I’ve collected around 100 explicit Scriptures that leave no wiggle room out of this.

The above theological affirmations were deemed critical for Christians to believe.

Any hypothetical situation that allows for Christ to sin, loose His attributes of Deity and eternally cease to exist would seem to be problematic and impossible to reconcile with Sacred Scripture.

Perhaps I’ve read the things I’ve quoted wrong but I’m doubting that given those statements are only representative of what been documented and I only cited a fraction of what exists.

I’ve read the documents you alerted me to but didn’t note anything in them that excluded belief that Christ could have mutated into a sinner, had the attributes of Deity extracted and ceased to exist, eternally.

Thanks to an SDA friend at a popular SDA forum I’ve come to understand that not all SDA’s believe the same way about certain elements of the Christian Faith. I acknowledge that some SDA’s reject the notion that Christ could have failed and identify it as heretical. It’s difficult to sort this out due to SDA’s generally not endorsing Nicaea or the other Creeds that Baptists, Lutheran’s, Eastern Orthodox, etc. accept.

I understand the concept of the Big Tent that represents the SDA Church and I’m not throwing rocks here. I’m just trying to explain where I’m coming from.

As for the ten commandments I accept them - I just identify the Sabbath Commandment as having both a moral and ceremonial aspect.

As is confirmed by looking at every ancient culture it’s evidently MORAL that man set aside some time for the worship of God('S) - this is the moral part of the commandment. Man could not know unless supernaturally informed by God WHEN the correct time would be (This is the ceremonial part).

The Sabbath was intended to be “perpetual” - our Parents were intended to live in it perpetually. There should have been no 8th day. This is the meaning of the Jewish holy day Rosh Hashana. Thus, from Adam to Moses there would have been no observing a ceremonial Sabbath due to the fact of Adam and Eve being kicked out of “God’s Rest”.

See: Exodus 16, 4 / Exodus 16, 23

“And he said unto them, This is that which the Lord hath said, To morrow is the rest of the holy sabbath unto the Lord: bake that which ye will bake to day, and seethe that ye will seethe; and that which remaineth over lay up for you to be kept until the morning”.