Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Martin Luther and Ellen G. White: Prophets?

Recently over on the CARM discussion boards, my friend Ric pointed out a Seventh Day Adventist minister arguing their prophet, Ellen G. White, is an “…authoritative source of truth despite errors and contradictions to the Bible, by pointing out that Luther considered himself a prophet but still had erroneous statements.” In other words, Luther was a prophet who erred, but Protestants don’t devalue him. Similarly, Ellen White is a prophet who erred, she likewise, should not be devalued.

This SDA minister posted the following to substantiate his assertions:

Martin Luther was considered (and considered himself) a prophet. I couldn't remember exactly where it was that I read that, but browsing through an old Spectrum magazine I found who said it--the source of the idea that Ellen White's visions were the result of seizures--Molleurus Couperus. Here's the quotation:

"Nearly all Protestant churches have had at least one outstanding leader whose dedication to what he considered his divinely ordained work and message was apparent to all. In spite of the fact that these men made mistakes and erred, their grateful and admiring followers awarded them a place of unusual authority in their church, particularly in matters of Biblical interpretation and doctrine. This was especially true of Luther and Calvin. Martin Luther, for instance, was called "an instrument of God," "a prophet of the Almighty" and an "apostle of freedom." Luther also applied the title of prophet to himself occasionally. His prophecies were gathered together by Johannes Lapäus and published by him in 1578 under the title True Prophecies of the Dear Prophet and Holy Man of God Dr. Martini Luther. This book was republished in 1846. Hans Preuss in 1933 wrote a scholarly volume entitled Martin Luther the Prophet, in which he lists the prominent theologians who called Luther a prophet, both before and after the Enlightenment. During the last century, Luther was more often called apostle or reformer. As time went on after Luther's death and scholars were able to study and compare the astounding size of Luther's writings (his published works fill more than 60 volumes), a critical evaluation was possible of the nature and extent of his contribution to the Christian church. In all this, he has remained the Reformer, the great Man of God (Spectrum, vol. 10, num. 1, p. 23)."

...Luther--the man of mistakes and errors, who sometimes styled himself a prophet.

The definitive work on this subject is a recent book by Lutheran scholar, Robert Kolb: Martin Luther as Prophet, Teacher, and Hero: Images of the Reformer 1520-1560 (Michigan: Baker Books, 1999). Kolb notes at times Luther referred to himself not only as a prophet, but also an apostle:

“[Luther] did not regard himself as a Herculean hero. But he did assume the epistolary style of saint Paul as early as 1522, and he drew parallels between the career of the apostle and his own career, moving out of works-righteousness into the proclamation of the gospel of God’s grace. Furthermore, he could call himself a prophet of the German, an apostle and evangelist in German territory, an Isaiah or Jeremiah. Yet Luther did not always possess this prophetic self-confidence. He often engaged in self-examination. He was plagued by repeated doubts about his own person. Yet he could also state, ‘I do not say that I am a prophet…But if I am not a prophet, I am nevertheless certain for myself that the Word of God is with me and not with them, for I indeed have Scriptures on my side.’” (p. 31)

But before we thank our Seventh Day Adventist friend for such a wonderful comparative insight, and we then apologize for our treatment of Ellen White, Kolb then says:

“Luther’s concept of himself as a prophet differed, therefore, from the medieval eschatological vision of the prophet who was to come. His claims to the calling of apostle or prophet rested solely on his proclamation of the gospel. For him, what mattered was God’s word.” (p.31)

“Luther had no illusions about being an Enoch or Elijah returned from the grave…. What counted for Luther- and what linked him in his own mind with Elijah- was the Word of God in their mouths. He was firmly convinced that his tongue and pen proclaimed the same Word of God which Elijah proclaimed. Only because of this could he place himself in the ranks of prophets and apostles. Thus, much of the medieval notion of the prophet was not of importance for Luther. He claimed to possess no special gift beyond the Word which had been present in the mouths of the biblical prophets. His estimate of himself, as constructive promoter of the gospel or as destructive critic of false teaching, was only and only connected with the Word of God.” (p.31-32).

There was a strand of Lutherans, dating all the way back to the early Reformation period that saw Luther as a true, Biblical prophet. They produced books, and after Luther's death, some of them even viewed Luther's writings as the only sure way to interpret Scripture. On my blog, I linked to one of these works a few months back:

The Adventist quote above refers to a book by Johannes Lapäus True Prophecies of the Dear Prophet and Holy Man of God Dr. Martini Luther (1578). Kolb explains Lapäus was a village pastor and published collections of Luther’s prophecies “…in order to bring his call of repentance and the comfort of the Gospel to the people of Germany” (p.181). Lapäus quoted late medieval figures who he thinks prophesied of the coming of Luther (Huss and Hilten). Added to this were accounts from Luther’s contemporaries claiming his gift of prophecy. This was done to “prove” Luther’s true gift.

A large portion of Kolb’s book deals with men like this, who turned Luther into an oracle of God. Kolb states, “[Some Lutherans] had no problems transferring authority to him and to his writings. Luther’s prophetic office, his living voice, expressed the gospel for his followers” (p.33)

Regardless of what some Lutherans thought, Luther did not consider himself a prophet giving new revelation from God. When Luther proclaimed sola scriptura, he really meant it. Thus, to compare Ellen White and Luther is farcical. Ellen White did claim extra-biblical revelation, and she made mistakes.
One last point, I can provide references to Luther's Works to substantiate the points from Kolb, including contexts.

1 comment:

L P Cruz said...

I do not consider Luther a Prophet in the class of Isaiah and Jeremiah etc.

I do consider him a prophet in that he came to call people back to the Lord - the Gospel. Demon or not, the whole church world could not but adjust based on the issues he raised.