Will the Real Protestants Please Stand Up?

The ever-growing threat of a joint union between the two largest sects of Christendom looms before us, five hundred years after an erstwhile Augustinian monk nailed a copy of his letter to the Archbishop of Mainz on the All Saint’s Church door in Wittenburg, Germany.  In his excellent treatise here, Pastor Kevin D. Paulson breaks down the theological reasons to why the Protestant Reformation should by no means be considered over.

But the theological points of contention are not the only reasons for the continuation of the Protest. Largely lost in the conversation is the protest against the uniting of church and state, which is a hallmark of the Roman Church’s legal contribution to civilization. We can’t fault the Protestant world at large for failing to see this integral piece to the ongoing protest, but for Seventh-day Adventists, there is little or no excuse.

We must emphasize Protestantism as an ongoing movement to protest against the unscriptural practices of the Roman Catholic Church and her civil hegemony. But lest we forget, even Protestants fresh from the Reformation have themselves been unclear about their position on church-state separation.

Luther’s protest originally focused on the abuse of spiritual and temporal power. The fact that the papal representative, Johann Tetzel, sold temporal indulgences for the gain of the Church, shows how much Rome was mixing spiritual with human affairs. Depriving poor peasants of hard-earned pay through fear of the torment of a loved one or oneself is the most debased level of extortion.

The protest must continue. The Radical Reformers had a clearer understanding of church-and- state separation, and for much of their early history suffered abuses from both Catholics and the magisterial Reformers, both of whom regarded them as heretics. Although the purer forms of church-state separation weren’t fully developed during the early days of the Reformation, we have Martin Luther to thank for the continued development of this principle to this day, due to his theory of the “Two Kingdoms”.

“God has ordained the two governments: the spiritual, which by the Holy Spirit under Christ makes Christians and pious people; and the secular, which restrains the unchristian and wicked so that they are obligated to keep the peace outwardly….The laws of worldly government extend no farther than to life and property and what is external upon earth. For over the soul God can and will let no one rule but himself. Therefore, where temporal power presumes to prescribe laws for the soul, it encroaches upon God’s government and only misleads and destroys souls. We desire to make this so clear that every one shall grasp it, and that the princes and bishops may see what fools they are when they seek to coerce the people with their laws and commandments into believing one thing or another.” (1) 

True Protestants recognize these principles as anathema to Rome, which sought to govern not only spiritual matters, but over the temporal lives of individuals. The Great Reformer that God raised at this time was cognizant of why Rome was terribly corrupt. She sought control over the consciences of men and women.

Unfortunately, John Calvin and much of the Reformed branch of Protestantism have overlooked this integral part of the Reformation. They developed a different form of Luther’s “Two Kingdoms” theory to accommodate a more “activist” version that allowed more church influence over civil and political affairs. Reformed Presbyterian minister William B. Evans explains,

“Reformed Two-Kingdoms advocates have spent a good deal of time trying to portray Calvin as a keen disciple on Luther on this issue. But while Calvin deployed two-kingdoms language, he generally did so with somewhat different aims and his practical stance was more activistic.  He sought to protect the church from the encroachments of the state, and to emphasize that Christians have a spiritual obligation to the state, but the temporal realm does not have the independence that it has in Luther. Despite similarities in language, this difference helps to account for the profound contrast between the passivity of the Lutheran tradition toward the state and the historic pattern of social and political activism evident among Reformed Christians.  Calvin’s role in Geneva underscores his conviction that distinctively Christian concerns have an important role in the public square, and that magistrates are obligated to further Christian virtues.” (2)

The magisterial Reformers took a substantial step towards the Light; but in matters of church-state relations they were often unclear, if not explicit in their embrace of error. This was demonstrated in the execution of the Anti-Nicene Modalist Michael Servetus by burning at the stake at the behest of John Calvin in Geneva and Huldrych Zwingli’s persecution of Anabaptist believers in Zurich.

The “Protestant” Anglicans likewise developed a taste for suppressing religious consciences, and introduced laws that inhibited the civil liberties of both Roman Catholics and anti-Trinitarians. Even the Puritan movement that arose from a protest of Anglican corruption exercised their own version of religious oppression, even as they fled Europe to escape it in the New World. (3)

Fortunately, Roger Williams’ work as a trailblazer in religious liberty helped apply the brakes to this cycle of insanity. He was at least partially influenced by Sebastian Castellio, a Reformer contemporary with John Calvin who converted to Protestantism after witnessing Roman Catholic Inquisitors execute several heretics at the stake. (4)

Castellio was a trusted aide of Calvin’s, but after witnessing the execution of Servetus the two had a falling out, and Castellio was driven to the fringes of society by the Reformed community. Castellio was said to be so disgusted that he compared Calvin with the Catholics, and wrote,

hominem occidere non est doctrinam tueri sed hominem occidere" [To kill a man does not mean to defend a doctrine; it means the death of a man]. (5)

Few contemporary theological descendants of Calvin seek capital punishment for spiritual ills.   But the underlying principle of such intolerance remains and lies dormant, looking for an opportunity to reassert itself given the right environment and atmosphere. In this way, many Protestants have not entirely divorced themselves from Catholic Modus Operandi.

Today in America, Christians regularly seek the tools of civil government in an effort to “retain morality” and keep the country from falling into a cesspool of degradation. While Christians can and should work to help a nation exalt God, it must not be done through the tools of statecraft and civil coercion, but rather, through the mighty work of the Third Person of the Godhead, the Holy Spirit.

“Then he answered and spake unto me, saying, This is the word of the Lord unto Zerubbabel, saying, Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the Lord of hosts.” – Zechariah 4:6

The Adventist pioneers were not only strong advocates for religious liberty; they also saw the suppression of religious freedom by fellow Christians as a crucial element in eschatology. To this author’s knowledge, there is no other major church or denomination that teaches this. All other eschatological interpretations see atheism, secularism or perhaps paganism as the ultimate foe of God’s people at the end of history. Adventism’s unique eschatological view makes us peculiar, not just in the world, but also in the Christian church at large.

Our eschatological vision sees the revival of popery, but not of its own; it will be propped up by an apostate Protestantism, erecting an “image” to the Beast. This image is the full union of the church with the secular state that we see glimpses of in our nation’s current political strife. Professed Protestants will seek to enforce their religious observances and beliefs upon others. Ellen White unequivocally states that the identification of the image is Protestants seeking to enforce their values with state coercion.

“But,” an objector adds, “isn’t America founded upon Protestantism and Republicanism?”

This idea is based on the following passage:

“…our country shall repudiate every principle of its Constitution as a Protestant and Republican government, and shall make provision for the propagation of papal falsehoods and delusions, then we may know that the time has come for the marvelous working of Satan, and that the end is near.” (6)

The “Protestant” -ism that is referenced here is the principle given by Martin Luther in the “Two Kingdoms”, further developed by others such as Sebastian Castellio and later down the line, Roger Williams, John Locke and down through the American Founders who envisioned an America with a “wall of separation” between Church and State.

The “Republican” –ism that is referenced here is not referring to the U.S. political party we know by that name today, but refers instead to the sacredness of the conscience and respect for the same by representative government. Both these principles, which guided the forming of our Constitution, will be demolished as a means of uniting church and state, according to the predictions of both Scripture and the writings of Ellen White. This will allow for a final test of allegiance to see who is of God, and who is of the Deceiver.

In the 1888 edition of The Great Controversy, Ellen White quotes with glaring alarm The Christian Statesman of December 11, 1884:

“We cordially, gladly, recognize the fact that in the South American republics, and in France and other European countries, the Roman Catholics are the recognized advocates of national Christianity, and stand opposed to all the proposals of secularism.... whenever they are willing to co-operate in resisting the progress of political atheism, we will gladly join hands with them.”

She also quotes an article of the same journal dated August 31, 1881, attributed to Reverend Sylvester Scovil:

“The nexus between the two great divisions of Christianity on questions of moral legislation is a thing worthy the consideration of our best minds and our men of largest experience in such affairs.”

Afterwards Sister White warns to avoid such sentiments, “And whenever Protestantism gains control of the civil power, whether with or without the aid of Rome, that will be but to erect an image of the papacy.” (7)

It is with great concern that we see Protestants seek to enforce their views via civil power, even in the name of enforcing good “moral legislation”. Of even greater concern are those that should understand more clearly the implications of this in prophecy—so--called “Seventh-day Adventists,”—lending their support to such a thing. We are called to give the Three Angels’ Messages of Revelation 14:6-12, and the Third Angel warns that those that “worship the Beast and his image” will be destroyed.

Warns God’s Messenger:

“The Lord has shown me clearly that the image of the beast will be formed before probation closes; for it is to be the great test for the people of God, by which their eternal destiny will be decided.” (8)

This is crucial for God’s people! We who already know what the “Mark of the Beast” is and can easily spot it to avoid, will be tested with the formation of the “image of the beast”. The true hallmark of a Protestant is to recognize what this image is, and how to avoid it. But lest any believer in Remnant truth is still unclear, Inspiration lays it out clearly and succinctly:

“But in the very act of enforcing a religious duty by secular power, the churches would themselves form an image to the beast:” (9)

Will the real Protestants please stand up?



1.     Luther, Martin. On Secular Authority

2.     Evans, William B. “The Two-Kingdoms Theology and Christians Today.” TheEcclesialCalvinist, 5 Mar. 2014, theecclesialcalvinist.wordpress.com/2014/03/04/the-two-kingdoms-theology-and-christians-today/.

3.     Sapian, Lemuel V. “The False Dichotomy Between Freedom and Righteousness.” ADvindicate, 8 Aug. 2016, advindicate.com/articles/2016/8/8/the-false-dichotomy-between-freedom-and-righteousness?rq=religious liberty.

4.     Guggisbert, Hans. 2003. Sebastian Castellio, 1515-1563; Humanist and Defender of Religious Toleration in a Confessional Age; Translated and Edited by Bruce Gordon. Hants England; Burlington, Vermont, USA: Ashgate Publishing Limited. pp. 247–270.

5.     Castellio, Sebastian. Contra libellum Calvini [Against the libel by Calvin] (original in Latin)

6.     White, Ellen G. Testimonies for the Church Vol. 5 pg. 451

7.      ---- Great Controversy 1888 Materials., pg. 689

8.     ---- Selected Messages, Vol. 2, pg. 80

9.     ---- Great Controversy, pg. 448


Lemuel Sapian is a graduate student pursuing a Masters in Divinity through online coursework at the Seventh-day Adventist Seminary in the Far East, in the Adventist International Institute for Advanced Studies (AIIAS). Born and raised in Denton, Texas, USA, as son of immigrants, his paternal great-grandfather was a Conference President in the Philippines during the Second World War, and his maternal grandfather and grandmother were instrumental in the founding of Mountain View College in the southern Philippine province of Bukidnon. He received his Bachelor of Arts in History at the University of North Texas and lives in the North Texas area with his wife, Pamela and their three children.