This article is about the ethics of accuracy. In the wake of immense influx of Internet memes and hoax news, a great deal of concern should be raised concerning the need for trustworthy and authentic information used in the pulpit. How credible are the sources we use in the pulpit?
I recently listened to an Adventist sermon on YouTube based on Revelation 13 and 17. Several sources were cited from the works of Protestants and Catholics to buttress an argument. Some of the sources were strange as they appeared very unauthentic in nature until this one came: “The Pope has the power to change times, to abrogate laws, and to dispense with all things, even the precepts of Christ” Decretal De Tranlat. Episcop. Cap. Upon hearing this quote I decided to subject it to critical investigation.
At a glance, the above quote reveals so many insufficiencies with regards to its authenticity. It is not dated. There are no apparent page numbers. The Epistolae Decretales are papal decrees on ecclesiastical laws, however, the quote is not attributed to any particular pope. This makes it more difficult to trace its originality. Then, since Papal letters are written in Latin, the source could have been in Latin for easy verification.
I took much pain to find out an authentic source for this quote but no avail. The quote seems to be either a forgery or paraphrased out of context from one of the Epistolae Decretales of the popes. More so, it might have come from a set of documents that were regarded by the Catholic Church as “Pseudo-Isidorian Decretals” in the ninth century. In whichever way, there is a great insufficiency of details to reach out to its authenticity. But how and when did it appear in Adventism?
The first appearance of this quote in Adventism dates back to 4th April 1865 in the volume 25 of the Advent Review, and Sabbath Herald (ARSH)1. In the “Interesting Extracts. No. 15” column, on page 140, Uriah Smith (editor) published several extracts entitled, “Prophecy fulfilled in the papacy” written by M. E. Cornell. The quote in question is one of those several extracts.
Again, the quote made its appearance in 1942 in the book Facts of Faith, p.197 by Christian Edwardson, published by the Southern Publishing Association in 1942. Ever since, this quote has appeared in several Adventist presentations in both public evangelism and literature. In all of its appearances, one encounters the same problem of improper citation of the source.
The above quote is not the only questionable quote that appeared in the presentation in question. There were quite number of cherry picking quotes taken out of context or non-authoritative secondary sources.
Ellen White’s accuracy on anti-papalism
Many scholars in E.G. White writings will testify of her as anti-papal other than anti-Catholic. In the Great Controversy where she spoke extensively on the eschaton rise of papal authority, she was careful at the same time to be more historical, and when she needed to mention names, she did it accurately with its corresponding encyclical letter. An example is found in the Great Controversy, page 564 where she cited “Pope Pius IX, in his Encyclical Letter of August 15, 1854.” Beginning from her ministry, she witnessed four successive popes namely, Pius IX (1846-1878), Leo XII (1878-1903), Pius X (1903-1914), and Benedict XV (1914-1922). The names of these popes have fewer or no space in her writings. Ellen White mostly spoke in general terms of the papal institution, and she did that by avoiding scathing remarks and speculations of facts.
Our greatest threat as a church
As the world is calling attention to the pandemic of “fake news”, it calls upon the church to advance its continual culture of theological and literature reforms. It can be a human thing to stumble on hoax quotes, nevertheless, its consequences may be far-reaching.
I may not have a case with anyone who is interested in pointing out papal or Catholic errors, especially when it is “positively essential in vindicating the truth” as said by E. G. White (Letters 11, January 30, 1895). But how accurate and sincere are we in such agenda? The commandment that says, “You shall not bear a false witness against your neighbor” (Ex. 20: 16; Deut. 5: 20). Truth is accurate, and the one who proclaims it should be accurate both in words and actions. The cost of inaccuracy may be too high a price for us to pay in the future.
Each one of us, once or on several occasions, might have fallen prey to inaccuracy in diverse ways. Great wisdom and carefulness is needed in analyzing secondary materials used in preaching.
This article has not intended to question any person’s faith or personality. All we need to do as a church is to pay attention to accuracy when using sources. Using fabricated texts or unfounded sources in preaching today can be detrimental to the truth we communicate. At least, let us be aware that not everything in a book is authentic unless proven otherwise.
- I stand to be corrected on this since it’s the earliest evidence that I came across in Adventist literature ▲