Monday, September 30, 2013

Luther and the Seventh-day Adventists

This morning I came across two old articles from a Seventh-day Adventists publication: Is There a Relationship Between Luther and Seventh-day Adventists? (1955). I expected a poorly documented bit of propaganda. The first article was more along the lines of propaganda, but I was rather surprised to find that the second article was more balanced. The important factors covered  in the second article were items particular to Seventh-day Adventistism: the Sabbath, eschatology,  the state of the dead, and the Antichrist. On the Sabbath, the article concludes Luther was right that the Sabbath is to be kept holy, but wrong on the day of the week it is to be observed.  On eschatology, the article rightly argues Luther was convinced he lived in the end times, and that the Antichrist could be found in the papacy and in Islam.

In the past I've come across Seventh-day Adventists arguing Luther blatantly and consistently advocated a doctrine of soul sleep. I expected this article to present a similar position. On the contrary, the author states:
As on many other teachings, Martin Luther expressed contradictory opinions on the state of the dead. We can find in his sermons the main opinions as they were current in his time. In his works he refers 125 times to death as being a sleep; but in 32 other passages he states on the contrary that death is a conscious state; 7 times he says that the dead live but are unconscious; and elsewhere he writes that the dead are sometimes conscious and sometimes unconscious. [See all references in Toivo Nikolai Ketola, A Study of Martin Luther's Teaching Concerning the State of the Dead (M.A. thesis, S.D.A. Theological Seminary, 1946), pp. 27-3].
The author cites a then unpublished study that I've certainly never heard of, and I would be curious to know which writings (and in which language) were surveyed. Whether or not the statistics are correct, there were indeed times in which Luther advocated the idea that after death the soul ‘sleeps’ until the final resurrection. The soul hibernates until the resurrection- when it is then awakened and reunited with its body. Luther stated this at times in somewhat undogmatic terms, cautioning his readers that we don’t have full understanding of this subject. At times he says things that contradict ‘soul sleep’- his was not a dogmatic conclusion. Luther knew that describing the state of the dead was speculative theology. The state of the dead was prone to wild speculation during his time. He would not join in to such folly. For more information, see my earlier blog entry here.

Compare and contrast articles as these put together by the Adventists can be tricky things. Certainly any group claiming the Bible as an authority can find areas of agreement and disagreement with other groups claiming the Bible as an authority. This doesn't mean though that Luther and the Adventists are on the same page, and would enjoy fellowship with each other. Consider the fact that at the Marburg colloquy in 1529, Luther and Zwingli agreed on 14 out 15 articles of doctrine, yet the one article they disagreed on was for Luther, a deal breaker. Luther would most-likely have problems with many aspects vital of Adventist doctrine, most particularly the role of Mrs. White and the place of the law.  

1 comment:

Mark Henderson said...

James,
Are you familiar with Robert Brinsmead, an Australian who led a reform movement in SDAism in the 1970s largely inspired by Martin Luther?
Brinsmead, an autodidact, published his writings in the widely distributed magazine 'Present Truth', later k.a. 'Verdict'. The on-line archives are here:http://www.presenttruthmag.com/index.html
Not surprisingly, Brinsmead was regarded as quite a divisive figure in world SDAism. Whatever one finally makes of his views, Brinsmead's magazine was for a time an interesting meeting place between two quite different doctrinal positions, SDAism and Luther!.

Regards,
Mark