Descent into Apostasy
We wish we could say that the last picture Ellen White portrays of Protestantism is the blessing that it brought to the world in sharing the light of God’s Word with the common people. However, as with many movements that do a work for God in the beginning, the churches that grew out of Protestantism began to lose the spirit of its founders. Each new generation took another step down the slippery slope of apostasy, feeling less of a burden to maintain unpopular positions and to keep advancing in a clearer knowledge and practice of Bible truth.
We cannot detail the history of any single Protestant denomination, let alone the hundreds of denominations that exist today. Instead, we will present a sampling of what Mrs. White states are the primary areas in which the Protestant churches have failed and which will lead to the eventual complete demise of the Protestant movement.
The Church Must Interpret the Scriptures
During the eighteenth century, the persecution and opposition to Protestantism diminished to the extent that one could profess the Protestant faith without endangering his life or possessions or losing his friends. Thus, many laid claim to the faith who would not have been willing to bear the cross of inconvenience or unpopularity.
Those who are unwilling to accept the plain, cutting truths of the Bible are continually seeking for pleasing fables that will quiet the conscience. The less spiritual, self-denying, and humiliating the doctrines presented, the greater the favor with which they are received. . . . Satan is ready to supply the heart’s desire, and he palms off his deceptions in the place of truth. It was thus that the papacy gained its power over the minds of men; and by rejection of the truth because it involves a cross, Protestants are following the same path. All who neglect the word of God to study convenience and policy, that they may not be at variance with the world, will be left to receive damnable heresy for religious truth. . . . The apostle Paul, speaking of a class who “did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved,” declares: “For this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” 2 Thessalonians 2:10-12. With such a warning before us it behooves us to be on our guard as to what doctrines we receive.
The Great Controversy, pp. 523-524
It was Protestants who made the Bible available to the common people, and yet they are falling into an error that may be even more subtle—and therefore dangerous—than that of not having a Bible at all—that of believing that the church must interpret the Bible:
The Roman Church reserves to the clergy the right to interpret the Scriptures. On the ground that ecclesiastics alone are competent to explain God’s word, it is withheld from the common people. Though the Reformation gave the Scriptures to all, yet the selfsame principle which was maintained by Rome prevents multitudes in Protestant churches from searching the Bible for themselves. They are taught to accept its teachings as interpreted by the church; and there are thousands who dare receive nothing, however plainly revealed in Scripture, that is contrary to their creed or the established teaching of their church.
The Great Controversy, p. 596
When a person accepts the teaching that the Bible cannot be understood by anyone but the church leaders, it is easy for him to look to a creed instead of the Bible as the definition of his faith. Those who do so are not ready to move forward as the Holy Spirit reveals new Bible truths:
How did the church first depart from the simplicity of the gospel? By conforming to the practices of paganism, to facilitate the acceptance of Christianity by the heathen. The apostle Paul declared, even in his day, “The mystery of lawlessness is already at work.” 2 Thessalonians 2:7. During the lives of the apostles the church remained comparatively pure. But “toward the latter end of the second century most of the churches assumed a new form; the first simplicity disappeared, and insensibly, as the old disciples retired to their graves, their children, along with new converts, . . . came forward and new-modeled the cause.”—Robert Robinson, Ecclesiastical Researches, ch. 6, par. 17, p. 51. To secure converts, the exalted standard of the Christian faith was lowered, and as the result “a pagan flood, flowing into the church, carried with it its customs, practices, and idols.” —Gavazzi, Lectures, page 278. As the Christian religion secured the favor and support of secular rulers, it was nominally accepted by multitudes; but while in appearance Christians, many “remained in substance pagans, especially worshiping in secret their idols.”—Ibid., page 278.
Has not the same process been repeated in nearly every church calling itself Protestant? As the founders, those who possessed the true spirit of reform, pass away, their descendants come forward and “new-model the cause.” While blindly clinging to the creed of their fathers and refusing to accept any truth in advance of what they saw, the children of the reformers depart widely from their example of humility, self-denial, and renunciation of the world. Thus “the first simplicity disappears.” A worldly flood, flowing into the church, carries “with it its customs, practices, and idols.”
The Great Controversy, pp. 384-385
The spirit of world conforming and indifference to the testing truths for our time exists and has been gaining ground in churches of the Protestant faith in all the countries of Christendom; and these churches are included in the solemn and terrible denunciation of the second angel [of Revelation 14]. But the work of apostasy has not yet reached its culmination.
The Great Controversy, p. 389
There is another path that leads back to Rome. It is that of seeking the aid of secular government.