It is both interesting and desirable to understand stand the typical positions and attitudes of communicants of other denominations, and especially to be acquainted with certain stock questions that spring logically and inevitably from their teachings. Only thus can we successfully meet those honestly holding these positions. These problems need to be dealt with in such a winsome but conclusive way that those who hold them will not be offended. Constructive help must therefore be given in order to lead them from their false views to the true.
Adherents of different denominations present differing problems. The Lutheran Church is the one we shall deal with briefly here. In North America we find many believers in this faith, especially among the German-speaking population. Individuals of this persuasion are not very easily convinced of present truth, but when they are, and when they accept the third angel's message, we find them very loyal to it and willing to support it in every way.
In working for this group, we find three outstanding questions which they usually raise in order to justify themselves in maintaining their stand. Here are the three, followed by suggestive answers.
First: Was not Luther a godly man? Did not the Lord use him to bring about the Reformation? If so, then why did he not keep the Sabbath and preach baptism by immersion?
As workers we never hesitate to say that Luther was a man of God, and that he was used mightily of Him to bring about the Protestant Reformation. Furthermore, we believe that Luther will have his place in the kingdom of God. Why then did the Lord not reveal the Sabbath to him, together with some of the other doctrines which we are heralding today? In answering this question we must first show that a far-reaching apostasy began after the death of the apostles, and that spiritual darkness began to reign so that at the beginning of the Reformation period the world truly was in gross spiritual error.
Through the Reformation, God began to bring back to the world the light which was to grow brighter and brighter until it would again be seen in all its fullness. When God began to cause His light to shine forth. He did not reveal all of it at once. The world was not ready in the days of Luther for all the fundamental truths that should be taught by the remnant church. Much preliminary, progressive work was needed. In Proverbs 4:18 we read: "The path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day." We stress the thought "that shineth more and more unto the perfect day."
There are many Christians who do not have all the light of present truth. They are sincere in what they believe, and are, no doubt, accepted in God's sight. But when more light is brought to them and they refuse to accept it, then they are rejected. The restoration of the true Sabbath was, according to the prophecies, to be a special work in the time of the end. The world was not ripe for it in Luther's day; other and later reformers were to arise and bring more light. They were not only to proclaim the Sabbath truth and baptism by immersion, but other fundamental truths, such as "the state of the dead," "punishment of the wicked," "tithing," etc. This will appeal to the reasonable mind.
Second: "My father and mother were Lutherans, and died in that faith. Why should we change? Before they passed away, we promised them that we would hold fast to what we have."
Some years ago a good Lutheran told me that he believed what the Bible taught. When I asked what he meant by that statement, he said: " 'Hold that fast which thou hast.' My father and mother were Lutherans, and I with them am going to remain in the Lutheran Church." I told him that the Lutherans did not believe in the kind of interpretation which he had just put forth, because if they did there never would have been any Lutherans. Luther's parents were Catholics, and he himself was a Catholic; and his parents told him to hold fast to what he had. But Luther stepped out from the Catholic Church because he saw the error of the church, and because of the new light which God opened before him. If he had heeded the counsel of his parents, he would have died a Catholic. Then I asked this man why the Lutherans sent out missionaries to heathen countries, for heathen parents teach their children to hold fast to what they have. This usually proves to be a helpful query.
It is essential to show that when God says. "Hold that fast which thou hast," we must have Biblical truth to hold to, and that this is what Paul meant in writing to Timothy: "Continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; and that from a child thou hast known the Holy Scriptures."
The Lord does not tell us to hold fast to any doctrine or truth that is not taught in the word of God. Timothy knew the Holy Scriptures. He was true to the truths taught in the Bible. Therefore he was admonished to continue in the things which he had learned.
Many Lutherans swear allegiance to their church, and have vowed to remain true to its teachings, and then naturally feel that it is a sin to break this vow. Because of this, one must be very careful in dealing with this question. If we have made a vow to remain true and faithful to something that we later learn is not Biblical, it surely is not a sin to break the vow, and so be free to repudiate erroneous doctrine and accept the truth of God.
Third: Is not faith everything, and works nothing?
This is a very natural proposition for a Lutheran to believe, because Luther's key doctrine was, "The just shall live by faith." He himself spoke of the epistle of James as a book of "straw," because it teaches a faith that works. Having been in the Catholic Church where he saw nothing but works, and having accepted the doctrine of justification by faith in contrast, he very naturally swung to the other extreme of excluding the rightful relationship of works.
The Lutheran of today thinks that a mere belief in Christ assures him of salvation, regardless of what he does. We, of course, agree with him that faith is essential, and that Christ is the central theme of the Scriptures; but we cannot accept the thought that merely to believe in Him, and not to do the works which He did, will save us, for "faith without works is dead." This will usually be seen when clearly explained. We cannot be saved by our own works, but true faith in Christ will bring obedience to Him in the lives of His true followers. Having been justified by faith, we live the life of the Son of God, a life that reveals righteous works. It is well to be prepared on these three points when working with Lutherans.
Washington. D. C.
* Compiled by Harold M. Walton, M. D., College of Medical Evangelists, Loma Linda, Calif.