We Can Be Progressive Adventists without Exploiting Anti-Catholic Feelings

It appears that significant hostility toward Roman Catholicism lurks just beneath the surface of respectability among those of us who consider ourselves to be less traditional and more progressive Seventh-day Adventists. It is also seems that we easily exploit these negative feelings when we want people to do what we believe they should.

Even if only because SDAs and Catholics interact so much in educational and health care settings, we should give this some attention. On the one hand, many students in our colleges and universities are Roman Catholics. So are many patients, clinicians, and administrators in our medical centers. On the other hand, quite a few of our university students study on Roman Catholic campuses. Also, many SDAs have been or now are patients, clinicians, and administrators in Catholic health care facilities.

This is not surprising because today Roman Catholicism is serving 1/6 of all the patients in the United States. Some say that Roman Catholicism manages 26% of all the health care facilities in the world. I have not mentioned Adventist and Catholic “joint ventures” in health care because there is some uneasiness about them in both denominations.

Adventist roots run deep in anti-Catholic soil. Two thick layers of it are theological and liturgical; however, other layers of it are historical, sociological, cultural, political, ethnic, and economic. Our difference in size, with 1.2 billion Roman Catholics and 20 million Adventists around the world, is another important layer. We need not excavate these layers in this discussion because they are well known and because they should make no difference in how Adventism and Roman Catholicism relate to each other.

Do we believe that Roman Catholicism is the “beast” of Revelation 13? The best answer to this question is the accurate one. It is that most of us around the world believe that this is what John the Revelator had in mind but many others of us don’t. Either way, despite our differences on this, from the beginning we SDAs have also thought of the “beast” as a fitting image for any coercive combination of religious and political power. Our denomination’s 28 Fundamental Beliefs do not mention Roman Catholicism. We all know that many others will vastly outnumber us in the Kingdom of God. Many of this much greater number will not have even heard of Jesus Christ but, as we often put it, they will have “lived up to the light they had.”

Many of us are SDAs by chance and by choice and most of us who are will always be Adventists inwardly even if we “leave” the denomination outwardly. Although we reject Roman Catholicism, we should be able to applaud it for its many contributions to human wellbeing. A baseball team can win a game even if the other team makes many points. Also, the winning and losing teams in close games often thank and congratulate each other for playing a closely contested game. The same is true in church membership. We Adventists do not need to have all the theological and liturgical points in order to justify our denominational choice.

Why, then, do we so often shoot arrows named “Catholic” or “Congregational” at church structures we don’t like? If we would add to our quiver another arrow named “Presbyterian” and use lower case letters, we would have the three primary ways Christians have organized themselves over the centuries. They respectively give the most power to bishops, congregations, and elders. There is nothing inherently bad or necessarily wrong about any of them. Everything depends upon the Christian group’s setting, history, self-understanding, resources, and mission.

Our church structure has served us well since 1901; however, rapid and diverse growth are decreasing its effectiveness. We are, therefore, experiencing increasing tensions between those who honestly believe that the denomination can meet the needs of the current situation only by becoming much more centralized, hierarchical, and authoritarian on the one hand, and those who honestly believe that it can succeed only by becoming much less of all three.

This is a legitimate issue which we should openly and thoughtfully discuss. We are having too few of these discussions for at least two reasons. To use an analogy from science, one of them is that we are spending too much time discussing issues within administrative paradigms rather than among them. A second problem is that we are not encouraging people openly to make cases for the three basic options, or some combination of or alternative to them.

I fear that those of us who think of ourselves as less traditional and more progressive are no more likely to encourage such freedom of thought and expression than others. This because we are certain that centralized, hierarchical, and authoritarian church structures are evil. We don’t put it this way. We instead signal that they are Roman Catholic and all adult and mentally alert Adventists get the message.

Adventism will never become Roman Catholicism and we shouldn’t scare each other into thinking that it might. Even if we were to become much more centralized, hierarchical, and authoritarian than we already are, the most important theological and liturgical differences between us and Roman Catholicism would remain and this is what matters to most of us.

Few of us care what form of church government we have as long as it works. We do care about what we believe and how we worship. We don’t want to arrive at church some Sabbath morning and encounter a baptismal pedestal at the entrance, confessional booths lining the sides, and icons at the front where priests are preparing to perform a Mass. This isn’t going to happen!

Ours is the only denomination which is trying to have a single global denomination which is not centralized, hierarchical, and authoritarian. In every other case, denominations have had to choose between centralization and decentralization. Roman Catholicism is sticking with the first option but virtually all Protestants have chosen the second alternative. This is why there are many different Lutheran, Calvinist, and Wesleyan denominations which try to cooperate without losing their independence. It is the same in other theological traditions.

It would be easier for those of us who are Adventist to choose either air or water than to choose either centralization or decentralization because either way we die. This means that we have no choice but to try to accomplish what no other large denomination in the entire history of Christianity has been able to do. This is to develop a continuingly revising mix of centralization and decentralization which is sensitive and subtle enough to adapt to changes within and around us.

If this were easy, every other Christian denomination would have done it. The odds are against our success. We deceive ourselves if we think that we can succeed where everyone else has failed because we are superior in some way. Although successfully establishing an effective and self-correcting mix of centralization and decentralization is improbable, it is possible if we collaborate with each other and with the Holy Spirit; however, our recent success at this is limited.

This should make us much more sympathetic to both the episcopal and congregational ways Christians have organized themselves over the centuries as well as to the presbyterian option. We should disparage none of them. We should also be hesitant to arouse and appeal to our negative feelings about any of these alternatives in order to advance our own causes.

Dr. David Larson is Professor of Religion at Loma Linda University.

Photo by Fischer Twins on Unsplash

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/9018

This should make us much more sympathetic to both the episcopal and congregational ways Christians have organized themselves over the centuries as well as to the presbyterian option. We should disparage none of them. We should also be hesitant to arouse and appeal to our negative feelings about any of these alternatives in order to advance our own causes.<<

Good article David,
Adventism is a young kid on the block while others have had centuries to develop church government. Another point when people use words like Stalin, former USSR etc. is that a church is a voluntary organization. Sometimes it’s better to not repeat addictive obsessions and beat one’s head against the wall. Therefore one can leave though it is often very painful & misunderstood when one leaves friends and memories as far as church. True friends don’t leave.

Yes, there are other forms where the authorities do not have the title to the local church. An orderly process of leaving can be available.
I appreciate the local church, Presbytery, and General Session of the Presbyterian Church and they definitely have a history of separation over doctrine and mission! :slight_smile:

As to Anti-Catholic feelings. If there is hatred etc.as an attitude that is not acceptable. If there are doctrinal disagreements with another church body/denomination it is perfectly acceptable to dissent, be stubborn for the sake of what one feels to be biblically true.

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I disagree with the actual premise of the article. In my experience, more liberal minded Adventist have been more accepting of others, including catholics and less inclined to label them “beast”. Those of a traditional stance are still preaching the beast from the pulpit.


Actually the symbolic harlot rides the beast. The reason all churches and “religious causes” shouldn’t get too involved with governments in their righteous causes. As/if they do they just might be one of the types of the harlot riding the beast.
I find both “traditionals” and “progressives” can ostracize and demean the other when it is convenient to their “righteous cause.” It’s more a human response, I suggest, than just something defined by a label.


Here’s a basic question: Are we more in love with Jesus and more willing to minister His redeeming love than we are in love with telling ourselves that we’re experts at explaining prophecy and scaring people about the church of Rome? Jesus didn’t tell us to hate, He told us to love Him so we could be transformed and our testimony would attract people away from Satan’s power. That underlying disdain for Catholics reveals our need to experience more of the love of Jesus so we can stop hating.


I do not aspire to be a progressive Adventist nor a progressive anything else. This is a political term and to be despised in an Adventist context.

The reason I frequent this site is because I appreciate much of its investigative journalism - something Adventists desperately lack. Also, I appreciate the fact that there are so many thoughtful people contributing here. Even my poor contributions are gratefully received.

I would suggest that the Association of Adventist Forums was never begun to be a progressive voice among Adventists.

And now to the subject at hand. Real Protestants have been protesting against the hierarchical power and abuse of the Roman Catholic system since the time of John Wycliffe and Martin Luther.

The great apocalyptic prophecies of the Scripture have for 500 or 600 years been used to identify error and heresy, abuse and persecution, blasphemy and soul destroying deception.

Presently, the news from the Roman hierarchy in America only confirms the above description.

My great great grandfather, a Belfast Baptist complained in the 1840’s that the anglican aligned Church of Ireland was progressing Romeward. These were the days of the Oxford Movement. This led him to become a foundation member of the first Baptist congregation in Belfast before his departure for Australia. Subsequently, he became a foundation member of the first Baptist congregation in Brisbane.

Recently, I discovered a distant cousin who is an oblate of some Order. I respect her devotion and we have become good friends.

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Peter, I joined our formative AAF in the 70’s in Atlanta. At the time our discussions were mainly related to JBF & the sanctuary and IJ. How things change ! …And, no politics as I recall! Also guest were Walter Rea and Numbers book was discussed. Smuts also preached one weekend!
I think “progressive” became more palatable to some than “liberal” as things developed.
I suggest in the political REALM the same thing has come about because “progressive” sounds intellectual, exciting and open with fewer historical footprints. I would also suggest that many of the issues have become more political ideology than spiritual/theological.
That said, I suggest the SDA church has severe problems that have never been resolved…and likely won’t be.


“…from the beginning we SDAs have also thought of the “beast” as a fitting image for any coercive combination of religious and political power…”

I suspect our difficulties arise when we view the ‘legs of iron / feet of iron and clay’ from a dispensationalist view point. Romanism is bad because it was prophesied so to be, rather than the oppressive historic and political power of Rome being the criteria of abuse.

The beast is beastly because of beastly behaviour, rather than beastly by inheritance.



I like your description of the error of any centralized, hierarchical and authoritarian ecclesial body. And your differentiation between ecclesial bodies that seek for the widest possible unity via centalization and those bodies that seek for it via decentalization is well made.

Your point that ours is the only christian movement which is trying to preserve a single global unity that is not centralized, hierarchical and authoritarian is spot on.

In my understanding, which is standard Adventist fare, the Scripture critique in Daniel 7 of the little horn proceeds to a forensic investigation of its nature. Its nature differed from all the beastly kingdoms which preceded it. All these beastly kingdoms imbibed the dictatorial spirit and rapaciousness of the initial Babylonian kingdom. That’s why, in a sense, all of them are a continuation of Babylon including the little horn power. These powers all excelled in the political realm but only the little horn also excelled as a religious dictatorship.

Daniel 7 makes a 3 fold critique of this little horn power. First, it spoke great words against the Most High. Second, it persecuted the saints of the Most High. It would have supreme authority over saints and martyrs for 1260 years. Third, it thought to change times and law, an indirect but clear reference to the change of God’s Sabbath by a heretical caste of religious bureaucrats of this hierarchical, authoritian power. (see Daniel 7: 25).

Daniel 8 extends this critique. Daniel 8 emphasizes the seamless transition between the Ceasar’s and the Bishops of Rome. Both these phases of Roman power positioned themselves in exalted opposition to the heavenly Prince of the Host. Both these phases of Roman power sought to detract from the efficacy of God’s way of forgiveness and salvation.

And all these predictions have been fulfilled just as the Scriptures anticipated.

Can Roman Catholic people be part of God’s people? Yes! A thousand times yes! Even as their lives and experience of Jesus are blighted by a totally oppresive Babylonian system.

Can Christians of whatever label belong to God and be part of his family? Yes again. But when religious bureaucrats imbibe the spirit of centralism in a human system, hierarchicalism and authoritarianism to enforce error and promote deception then that system has also become part of Babylon.

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I grew up in a small community on the outskirts of Johannesburg, South Africa.

In our little village we had a CARMELITE CONVENT…
These were nuns who had taken the oath of silence. —they never spoke,

They lived behind high secluded walls and literally were never seen,
except on the national Election Day,when they did emerge to vote…

We had many Jews in Johannesburg, who had been allowed to emmigrate from pre Nazi Europe. Not because our government was pro Semitic, but merely to increase the white population versus the black.

The local white populations were largely Protestants, mainly conservative members of the DUTCH REFORMED CHURCH .

So Catholics were in the minority in my youthful demographic.

Because South African Adventists were conservative, and fervent EGW believers, we were tainted by Ellen’s anti Catholic stance

The current revelations of pervasive pedophilia practiced by a minority of Catholic clergy is truly astonishing. Will this be the DEADLY WOUND that will destroy the papacy? Adventism would not survive such scandal, but Catholicism carrys on!

The MARK OF THE BEAST was a potent symbol for me in my youth.

In my old age, I have happily divested myself of my racist Sourh African upbringing and my EGW anti catholic bias.

Regrettably, I do find that I have replaced my anti Catholic bias with an

Islam’s shabby treatment of women, and their harsh SHARIA LAW sustain this bias, along with their fervent jihadist mentality.

Should Islam be stigmatized as a BEAST.??


There are aspects of Islam that should be embraced rather than shunned. Boiling away beneath the visible face of Islam there is a movement that is searching for truth. Muslims are encouraged to read the Jewish and Christian scriptures, but many, like many Adventists are tainted by the biases of their upbringing. Even more telling, many Muslims are more fervently waiting for the 2nd coming of Christmas than many Adventists.
We shun what we don’t understand and we don’t seek to understand because we have the “final truth.” Close-mindedness is more dangerous to the church than a continual search for truth.


You state that:
“Muslims are encouraged to read the Jewish and Christian Scriptures”

Not so!
The Bible,is banned in most majority Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia.

And Christian missionaries can be jailed for disseminating Christian literature and Bibles.

Plus, the penalty for apostasy from Islam is DEATH.


It is not forbiddenin the Al-Quran. The Bible, the Toral and the A-Quran areally all written/inspired by Allah. Like most Christians, many Muslims have not read their scriptures, and they take the word of their preachers rather than searching for themselves.


AMEN! But: Most of past and current baptized church members HATE Catholics! Can’t we follow Jesus???

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Daniel 8 having anything to do with 1844 is simply wrong exegesis! It is SDA eisegesis! That also detracts from God’s way of forgiveness and Christ’s finished work of atonement on the cross. He immediately Ascended and sat down at the rt. hand of the Father on the Throne of God as Priest King not of the old order! Heb.8:1 ; 9:12 .


Did Christ hate the Jewish leaders OR did he hate their false teachings? Yes, love like Christ!

How is religious discrimination similar to racism?

What do you think of those in the church who identify themselves as Adventists rather than Christians?

Interestingly that is what RCath. do in the Philippines. I guess there is a human desire to really be unique and not just a plain ole Christian.


I cannot even begin to believe that the Al Quran is inspired by God

There is too much evil in it!

Including the command to kill /.destroy all “infidels “—-
defined as all those who do not venerate the prophet Mohammed
(Who by the way was a polygamist and a pedophile
—.he married a six year old ). He also was responsible for the murder of many Jews.

Catholics and Islamists apparently do have something in common!

However I do see parallels,between the vindictive God of the Old Testament,
(as opposed to the loving Savior of the New Testament )

and the harsh Islamic Shariah Allah, who inspires public lashings / stonings. and the throwing of gays off ten stores buildings!

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Years ago I used to take a group of faculty and students to the high coffee country of Southern Mexico. At first the Catholic Priest was hostile in so much as to created a rabble against us. The Governor has to send troops to protect us. after a few years we informed the priest weeks ahead of our arrival. he would preach each week that he was hosting a group of health providers to his village. He would stand with me and Greet each patient… We got along just great. My eight years at Marquette was far better than my eight years at Loma Linda. It seems unknown to me someone had suggested my name for the open position of dean. That created a tension all of which I was unaware of, but the person who became dean knew My name had been suggested. I didn’t know until years latter the underlining cause of the tension. Much later we became friends. Politics is a mean spirited game even in church circles as the Church is now experiencing. This to shall past. But I found that I was a Christain first and a church member second.