Saturday, April 08, 2006

The Seventh Day Adventist Luther (Part Two)

This is a continuation of my examination of Seventh Day Adventists using Luther to establish their doctrines of ‘soul sleep’ and the mortality of the soul. Part one can be found here: The Seventh Day Adventist Luther: Soul Sleep and the Immortality of the Soul(Part One)

In part one I took a look at a discussion thread started by an Adventist, and also an Adventist web document named Martin Luther and William Tyndale on the State of the Dead. I contacted both authors to let them know I would be taking a look at their historical material on Luther. I have been hopeful that the author of the web document would respond- he hasn’t…. yet. But the Adventist who started the discussion did. In a blog back he stated:

Interesting conclusions you have drawn but as a Seventh-day Adventist and the one who started the thread about Luther and "soul sleep" I do not put Luther above what he was. In other words I am not appealing to Luther to establish any Adventist credibility. I support what Luther said in manmy[sic] things and disagree on others. "soul sleep" and moratilty[sic.] of the soul is Biblical.”

One has to simply ask then, why bring up Luther at all? Why should his opinion matter? Elsewhere in the same discussion he also stated:

Amazing to think that it is now about 500 years since the great reformer gave us so much light about the gospel.”

"It does not matter what I say or what even Luther says. I quoted this to show everyone that the Protestant reformers believed in the Bible.”

My point stands: Luther is being used in an attempt to give validity to the Adventist position. Simply because this Adventist denies this does not mean he’s not doing it. If this isn't the case, why bring up Luther?

In part one I demonstrated that some of the historical information being utilized by these Adventists was not accurate. I would further point out that some of the information they use is being selectively cited. In the web document Martin Luther and William Tyndale on the State of the Dead, the author cites Hugh Kerr’s book A Compend of Luther’s Theology (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1943). Kerr’s book is a helpful, short, anthology of Luther citations. Chapter 11 deals specifically with Luther’s eschatology- not though, in detail. The Adventist web document provides this Luther citation from Kerr’s book:

We should learn to view our death in the right light, so that we need not become alarmed on account of it, as unbelief does; because in Christ it is indeed not death, but a fine, sweet and brief sleep, which brings us release from this vale of tears, from sin and from the fear and extremity of real death and from all the misfortunes of this life, and we shall be secure and without care, rest sweetly and gently for a brief moment, as on a sofa, until the time when he shall call and awaken us together with all his dear children to his eternal glory and joy. For since we call it a sleep, we know that we shall not remain in it, but be again awakened and live, and that the time during which we sleep, shall seem no longer than if we had just fallen asleep. Hence, we shall censure ourselves that we were surprised or alarmed at such a sleep in the hour of death, and suddenly come alive out of the grave and from decomposition, and entirely well, fresh, with a pure, clear, glorified life, meet our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in the clouds . . .
Scripture everywhere affords such consolation, which speaks of the death of the saints, as if they fell asleep and were gathered to their fathers, that is, had overcome death through this faith and comfort in Christ, and awaited the resurrection, together with the saints who preceded them in death.—A Compend of Luther's Theology, edited by Hugh Thomson Ker[sic.], Jr., p. 242
."

Now, I realize I have yet to directly tackle Luther’s view of soul sleep. But if I were quoting this book, I would make sure to read all the Luther citations on Luther’s understanding of the soul after death that Kerr provides (which are only a few). Had the author wanted to use this compend to establish Luther’s view, one wonders why he didn’t begin with the citation found one page before (241):

It is true that souls hear, perceive, and see after death; but how it is done, we do not understand… If we undertake to give an account of such things after the manner of this life, then we are fools. Christ has given a good answer; for his disciples were without doubt just as curious. ‘He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live,’ (John xi.25); likewise: ‘Whether we live, or whether we die, we are the Lord’s,’ (Rom. Xiv.8)… ‘The soul of Abraham lives with God, his body lies here dead,’ it would be a distintion which to my mind is mere rot! I will dispute it. One must say: ‘The whole Abraham, the entire man, lives!’ – Conversations with Luther, pp.122 f.”

Source: Hugh Kerr, A Compend of Luther’s Theology (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1943), 241

Now, one has to deal with information that contradicts one’s own position. The Adventists have to deal with the citations from Luther that also denies their position on soul sleep. The next blog entry will look specifically at Luther’s understanding of the soul at death.

2 comments:

Milton said...

Who cares what any man says? The Bible is the only source of truth in such matters. Anything else is just politics.

Anonymous said...

Coming from Seventh-day Adventist training at Southern Adventist University and the SDA Theological Seminary at Andrews University, I have never been told that Luther believed in 'soul sleep' except that some of his writings did lean in that direction but he never fully considered soul sleep in the way future Bible scholars have. The best Adventist evidence relies on Scripture and the Jewish expression of thought in biblical context, and next the introduction of Plato/Socratic philosophy by some Church Fathers and thus embraced by mainstream Christianity gives explanation to the "immortality of the soul" proposal. My apologies on behalf of some of my over zealous Adventist brothers, who forget to keep Luther "mortal" enough to describe his sway in understanding the state of the dead as he journeys through more relevant profound truths to his experience: Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Sola Christus, Sola Scriptura.