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Questions On Doctrine


What Constitutes "Babylon"?


Do Seventh-day Adventists teach or believe, as a body, that the members of the various Protestant denominations, as well as the Catholic, Greek, and Russian Orthodox churches, are to be identified with Babylon, the symbol of apostasy?


We fully recognize the heartening fact that a host of true followers of Christ are scattered all through the various churches of Christendom, including the Roman Catholic communion. These God clearly recognizes as His own. Such do not form a part of the "Babylon" portrayed in the Apocalypse. The matter of loyalty or disloyalty to truth is, in the ultimate, a question of personal relationship to God and the fundamental principles of truth. What is denominated "Babylon," in Scripture, obviously embraces those who have broken with the spirit and essence of true Christianity, and have followed the way of apostasy. Such are under the censure of Heaven.

1. Historical Background Imperative.—In order to set forth what Seventh-day Adventists believe on this point, it is essential first to get the background of historical applications that reach back some eight hundred years. The earliest application of the symbolic term


"Babylon" to the Papacy, or the Roman Catholic Church, appears in the writings of the twelfth-century Waldenses and Albigenses. But along with their identification of the dominant ecclesiastical apostasy of their day as the organization portrayed in the Bible prophecies, they also stated that many of God's children were still in papal Babylon. And these they were constrained to "call out," or urge to separate, from her apostasies. A long list of spiritual-minded medieval Catholics follow in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries—including pseudo-Joachim, Olivi, Eberhard, Wycliffe, Huss, and Savonarola—all boldly asserting that "Babylon" represents the corrupted church of Rome, and warning of her coming retribution. And for this some even went to the stake.

2. Used by Protestant Founders.—During the Protestant Reformation all leaders taught essentially the same, from Luther, in 1520, onward. These men were scattered over Germany, Switzerland, France, and England. In Britain were men like William Tyndale, Bishops Ridley and Hooper, Archbishop Cranmer, Bishops Bale, Jewell, and Coverdale, and John Knox and Lord Napier in Scotland. Ridley's farewell letter before his martyrdom, in 1555, repeatedly referred to "Babylon," and called for separation from Rome.

3. Continued in Post-Reformation.—In post-Reformation times some thirty prominent expositors maintained the same position, including such famous men as King James I, Joseph Mede, Sir Isaac Newton, Bishop Thomas Newton, Methodism's founder John Wesley, and Johann Bengel and various other Continentals. Even in Colonial America, John Cotton,


Roger Williams, Increase Mather, Samuel Hopkins, and more than a score of others, down to President Timothy Dwight of Yale in 1812, made similar applications. One was the noted Baptist historian Isaac Backus, who in 1767 wrote: " 'She ['the church of Rome'] is the mother of harlots, and all churches who go after any lovers but Christ, for a temporal living, are guilty of playing the harlot.' " (See Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers, vol. 3, p. 213.) Earlier, Roger Williams had complained to the British Parliament about Protestants' clinging to the spirit and doing the deeds of papal Babylon.

Meanwhile, several Old World Protestant writers had noted that Babylon, the "mother" of Revelation 17, had "daughters" that bore the same family name. And believing that certain other Protestant bodies had retained some of the characteristics and errors of the Papacy, they began to include them under the family name "Babylon." Among these writers were such non-conformists as Browne, Barrow, and John Milton.

4. Babylon, Mother and Daughters.—In the early nineteenth-century Old World Advent awakening, Lacunza, from within Catholicism, called Babylon "Rome on the Tiber." And various Anglican and non-conformist leaders—such as Cuninghame, Brown, M'Neile, and Ash—pressed the application. The Protestant Association, organized in Exeter Hall in 1835—with such men as Croly and Melvill—in 1839 sounded the "out of Babylon" call, including both Protestantism and Popery.


And the Dublin Christian Herald, edited by Anglican Rector Edward N. Hoare, asserted in 1830 that the abominations of papal Babylon, the mother, "covered all Christendom." Alexander Fraser, of Scotland, and Anglican David Simpson, of England, held similar views. Fraser said that all churches were tinged with the spirit of Babylon. And Simpson declared that Protestant churches, of "whatever denomination," which partake of the same spirit and doctrines and circumstances, must be considered daughters.

In North America, passing Elias Smith and Lorenzo Dow, who wrote strongly on the Protestant daughters as related to Rome, Disciples churchman Samuel M. McCorkle declared that Protestantism had been befuddled by the wine of Babylon, and insisted that the "mother" church had Protestant daughters. And prominent Baptist clergyman Isaac T. Hinton (1799-1847) plainly hinted that nationally established Protestant churches are, because of church-state union and compromise, daughters of Babylon.

5. Employed in Advent Awakening.—Then, during the Second Advent Movement in America in the 1830's and 1840's, there was growing proscription among the larger Protestant bodies against those who held premillennialist views, and increasing ecclesiastical opposition to emphasis on the Second Advent—particularly among the Methodists and Congregationalists of New England—forbidding the dissemination of Adventism. This opposition led to the sounding of the call to "come out" from the churches that rejected the Second Advent message and that clung to the tainted doctrines of Babylon. That was how the "call" came to be sounded at that time. It was not a condemnation of the host of godly individuals in the various Protestant


churches, but of the official attitudes and actions in rejecting the vital Second Advent truth. (A historical record appears in Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers, vols. 1-4.)

6. A Thousand Years of Precedent.—In the light of the historical record of a thousand years, there is nothing new or strange about Adventist employment of the term that had constantly been used by other bodies, as they felt that light and truth had been rejected and opposed. And the application of the term "daughters" of Babylon has similarly been used for some three hundred years.

Groups and organizations such as the Fundamentalists, the International Council of Christian Churches, and the National Association of Evangelicals have withdrawn from the older organizations because of what they believed to be modernist apostasy entrenched in the controlling leadership of various denominations.

7. Evidence of Departure.—Such are the historic precedents. Adventists believe that the term "Babylon," referred to in Revelation 17, has been rightly applied to the Papacy. Great Babylon, however, according to verse 5, is mentioned as a "mother." So the term "Babylon" rightly belongs to others also. We therefore believe that wherever there are individuals, or groups of individuals, that hold to and advocate the unchristian doctrines, practices, and procedures of the papal church, such may justifiably be denominated "Babylon"—hence, part of the great apostasy. Wherever such conditions obtain, Adventists, with others, believe that the guilty organizations may rightly be denominated "Babylon."


8. Matter of Personal Relationship.—We believe that conditions in the religious world will worsen, not improve, as we approach the world's climax (1 Tim. 4:1, 2; 2 Tim. 3:1, 5). And the gulf between apostasy and fidelity to truth will become wider and wider as prophecy fulfills before our eyes. But our statements regarding Babylon do not have the defamatory character that some would impute to us. They are uttered in sorrow, not for invidious comparisons.

We are conscious of the fact that membership in any church is not, in itself, evidence either of fellowship with Christ or of fidelity to the fundamentals of the gospel. As was the case of Israel of old, the Christian church throughout the centuries has been plagued by the presence of a "mixed multitude" (Ex. 12:38; Num. 11:4; Neh. 13:3). And this is particularly true of these latter times, when many have departed from the faith, as clearly foretold in Bible prophecy (1 Tim. 4:1; 2 Tim. 4:3, 4). We firmly believe that God is calling today for His children to break with everything that is alien to the fundamental, apostolic principles of truth.