As we all know, October 31, 2017, marks the 500 year anniversary of Martin Luther’s posting his 95 Theses against Roman Catholic indulgences on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. This article will draw some lessons from Luther’s experience that are particularly relevant to Seventh-day Adventists .First,
Luther was the man for his time; through him God accomplished a great work for the reformation of the church and the enlightenment of the world (Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy, p. 120).
God has also called Seventh-day Adventists to give a special, end-time message to the world. Through us, He wants to accomplish “a great work.” The devil seeks to hinder this work, and he is now using every infernal tool in his satanic tool chest to defeat the Lord’s purposes.
In order to give God’s message, we must understand God’s character. When Luther was young, he was terrified of his Maker. Raised as a strict Roman Catholic by well-meaning parents,
The gloomy, superstitious ideas of religion then prevailing filled him with fear. He would lie down at night with a sorrowful heart, lookingforward with trembling to the dark future and in constant terror at the thought of God as a stern, unrelenting judge, a cruel tyrant, rather a kind heavenly Father (Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy, p. 121).
How about us? Do we see God “as a stern, unrelenting judge, a cruel tyrant, rather than a kind heavenly Father”? If so, we are being deceived by our cruel enemy, just as many struggling Catholics are being deceived today. After surviving a fierce lightning storm, Luther committed his life to God’s service and entered a monastery, yet his gloomy ideas of God’s character and requirements remained. As a monk,
… his convictions of sin deepened, [and] he sought by his own works to obtain pardon and peace. He led a most rigorous life, endeavoring by fasting, vigils, and scourgings to subdue the evils of his nature, from which the monastic life had brought no release. He shrank from no sacrifice by which he might attain to that purity of heart which would enable him to stand approved before God.
"I was indeed a pious monk," he afterward said, "and followed the rules of order more strictly than I can express. If ever monk could obtain heaven by his monkish works, I should certainly have been entitled to it. . . . If it had continued much longer, I should have carried my mortifications even to death."--Ibid., b. 2, ch. 3. As the result of this discipline he lost strength and suffered from fainting spasms, the effects of which he never fully recovered. But with all this his his burdened soul found no relief. He was at last driven to the verge of despair (Ibid., p. 123).
I doubt any of us have attempted such extreme monkish rigors, but I dare say that many still struggle seeking by our “own works to obtain pardon and peace” with God. Even for enlightened Adventists, how often our sin-burdened souls have still “found no relief.” As you read this, you may even be on “the verge of despair,” just like Luther was. If so, don’t give up. Light cometh. Inside the monastery,
When it appeared to Luther that all was lost, God raised up a friend helper for him. The pious Staupitz opened the word of God to mind and bade him look away from himself, cease the contemplation of infinite punishment for the violation of God's Law, and look to Jesus, his sin-pardoning Saviour. "Instead of torturing yourself on account of your sins, throw yourself into the Redeemer's arms. Trust in Him, in the righteousness of His life, in the atonement His death. . . . Listen to the Son of God. He became man to give you the assurance of divine favor." "Love Him who first loved you."-- Ibid., b. 2, ch. 4. Thus spoke this messenger of mercy. His words made a deep impression upon Luther's mind. After many a struggle with long-cherished errors, he was enabled to grasp the truth, and peace came to his troubled soul (Ibid., p. 123, italics added).
There is Hope
Praise the Lord! “After many a struggle with long-cherished errors” about his Maker’s character and plan of salvation, Luther began “to grasp the truth, and peace came to his troubled soul.” Don’t miss this point. This “truth” was the realization that he must not trust at all in his own works of keeping God’s law to earn His acceptance. Instead, he should trust fully “in the righteousness” of Jesus Christ alone for salvation (see Jer. 23:5,6; Eph. 2:8,9). This is a pillar truth of the Protestant Reformation, and one which we all need today.
The message of Christ our Righteousness became Luther’s lifeblood. At the heart of everything was his growing awareness that Jesus really did love him, even though he was a poor sinner. This love changed Luther’s life. As he preached this message to his parishioners, hope sprang up in their hearts too:
The glad tidings of a Saviour's love, the assurance of pardon and peace through His atoning blood, rejoiced their hearts and inspired in them an immortal hope. At Wittenberg a light was kindled whose rays should extend to the uttermost parts of the earth, which was to increase in brightness to the close of time (Ibid., p. , italics added).
The Everlasting Gospel
How marvelous! This statement connects Martin Luther’s basic message with the message of Seventh-day Adventists at “the close of time.” We must preach the same “glad tidings” of Jesus’ love, and offer the same “assurance of pardon and peace through His atoning blood.” Such rays are to “increase in brightness” as we near the end. In these troublous end-times, we are to preach the same “everlasting gospel” in the context of the three angels’ messages, during this present hour of judgment, coupled with earnest warnings about the beast and his deadly mark.
In the 1500s, Roman Catholicism taught many errors (as it does today), not just salvation by works. Another error was that after purchasing so-called “indulgences,” a person can go on sinning without consequences. Specifically, it was this papal practice of issuing certificates of indulgence that led Luther, 500 years ago, to post his 95 propositions on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, which sparked the glorious Reformation.
The message of an indulgence is basically this: Pay money, then do as you please. Luther’s message was two-fold: 1) He opposed salvation by works (which appeals to human pride, distorts God’s unselfish character of love, and often leads to discouragement and despair), and 2) He opposed indulgences (which deceives those who purchase them into thinking that ongoing sinning isn’t important, and that they can now live as they please). Both extremes, countered by Luther, should serve as beacons of warning to Seventh-day Adventists today.
I fear that too many of us today have adopted an indulgence form of Adventism. Essentially, such thinking is, “Since I’m not saved by works, but by faith alone, committing sins and breaking God’s law doesn’t matter. I’m covered by the blood.” But really, this smacks of Roman Catholicism, and essentially makes Christ an Indulgence Grantor. At Wittenberg:
Luther, though still [at this early time] a papist of the straitest sort, was filled with horror at the blasphemous assumptions of the indulgence mongers. Many of his own congregation had purchased certificates of pardon, and they soon began to come to their pastor, confessing their various sins, and expecting absolution, not because they were penitent and wished to reform, but on the ground of the indulgence. Luther refused them absolution, and warned them that unless they should repent and reform their lives, they must perish in their sins (Ibid., p. 128,129, italics added).
Thus the true Reformation message of Martin Luther 500 years ago counters two unbiblical forms of Adventism that often appear today: 1) A “salvation by works/God is severe and stern Adventism,” and 2) A false “Indulgence Adventism” where anything goes because we simply “believe in Jesus.” Both are wrong. The balanced, biblical truth is that all sins of breaking God’s law are deadly, and because Jesus Christ loves lost sinners so much, He consented to suffer an excruciating death to pay the full price for these very sins. The message of His kindness, love, and free, forgiving grace should lead to repentance and an utter renunciation of all sin, to a grace-transformed heart, and to loving obedience. During these end-times, building on Luther’s core message, Adventists are now called to preach the third angel’s message which adds Sabbath-keeping to our obedience, in response to God’s grace.
The Pope condemned Luther’s 95 theses, his doctrines, and books, and eventually issued a papal bull that essentially commanded the reformer to “Retract, or be burnt!”
When the papal bull reached Luther, he said: "I despise and attack it, as impious, false. . . . It is Christ Himself who is condemned therein. . . . I rejoice in having to bear such ills for the best of causes. Already I feel greater liberty in my heart; for at last I know that the pope is antichrist, and that his throne is that of Satan himself." -- D'Aubigne, b. 6, ch. 9 (Ibid., p. 141, italics added).
Do we still believe this today? Most Protestants don’t, which is one reason why major Protestant organizations — such as the Lutheran World Federation — have signed agreements with the Pope. To most, the Reformation is over. Yet the solemn fact remains that 500 years post-Luther, God’s Word has not changed, and the beast is still the beast. As friendly as Pope Francis appears, his glistening white throne flanked by two golden cherubim inside the Vatican is still “that of Satan himself” and counterfeits the throne of King Jesus whose kingdom is “not of this world.” As Pope Francis gains increasing popularity with Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Orthodox, Jews, homosexuals, Protestants, secularists, kings, presidents, politicians, media, and fortune 500 CEOs, we are surely seeing the fulfillment of this prophecy: “his deadly wound was healed, and all the world wondered after the beast” (Revelation 13:3).
Here are a few concluding thoughts. At Wittenberg,
He [Luther] firmly declared that Christians should receive no other doctrines than those which rest on the authority of the Sacred Scriptures. These words struck at the very foundation of papal supremacy. They contained the vital principle of the Reformation (Ibid., p. 125, italics added).
At his best, Luther based his doctrines and practices solely on the Holy Bible — not on tradition, or culture. He “preach[ed] the Word” (2 Timothy 4:2). So should we. He was bold. So must we be. He was willing to be burned at the stake for his faith. So should we. Above all, he lifted up Jesus Christ as our Supreme and only Savior. Before answering for his faith at the Diet of Worms, Luther prayed,
O Lord, help me! Faithful and unchangeable God, in no man do I place my trust. . . . All that is of man is uncertain; all that cometh of man fails. . . . Thou hast chosen me for this work. . . Stand at my side, for the sake of Thy well-beloved Jesus Christ, who is my defense, my shield, and my strong tower."--Ibid., b. 7, ch. 8 (Ibid., p. 156).
The signs of the times reveal that Adventism will soon meet its final showdown with the Roman Catholic beast, its American image, and enforced Sunday-keeping as its mark. Additionally, Adventism itself is in crisis over righteousness-by-works Adventism, Indulgence Adventism, over the authority of the Bible, and over submission to legitimate authority within God’s church.
In these closing moments, the Lord is now calling for end-time Luthers through whom He will again accomplish “a great work for the reformation of the church and the enlightenment of the world.” After spending much time on our knees in heart-searching repentance and faith in the merits of Jesus Christ alone, let’s go forward upholding the authority of God’s Word, boldly preaching the three angels messages, and keeping the Ten Commandments through His love and grace. As it is written,
Here is the patience of the saints, here are they that keep the Commandments of God and the faith of Jesus (Revelation 14:12).
With Luther, let’s fearlessly say, "Here I stand, I can do no other; may God help me. Amen." --Ibid., b. 7, ch. 8 (Ibid., p. 160).
Seventh-day Adventist pastor Steve Wohlberg is the Speaker/Director of White Horse Media based in Priest River, Idaho. He is a graduate of La Sierra University and Andrews Seminary, has authored numerous books, has appeared as a special guest on many radio and television shows, and has conducted Bible prophecy seminars throughout North America and overseas. His ministry website is www.whitehorsemedia.com.