Reformation principles for an end-time ministry

Twelve revolutionary principles of Martin Luther took center stage—then. Examining current pastoral practices, to what extent can we still call ourselves heirs of the Reformation—now?

Ganoune Diop, PhD, serves as the director of the General Conference Public Affairs and Religious Liberty department and secretary general for the International Religious Liberty Association, Silver Spring, Maryland, United States.

What Seventh-day Adventist Church member, let alone pastor, does not believe in the principles of Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation? However, Ellen White states, “Young ministers may speak the truth fluently, and yet have no real sense of the words they utter. They do not appreciate the value of the truth they present, and little realize what it has cost those who, with prayers and tears, through trial and opposition, have sought for it as for hid treasures.”1

In this reflection, we ask the question, Does our understanding of pastoral ministry conform to the foundational principles of the Reformation?

1. Sola Scriptura

For Luther, the sola Scriptura principle was the conviction that all church traditions, creeds, and teachings must be in unity with the divinely inspired Word of God, and all believers are equal before it. The depth of Scripture is ever unfolding until perfection comes and faith becomes sight (Prov. 4:18). Ellen White states: “There are many at the present day thus clinging to the customs and traditions of their fathers. When the Lord sends them additional light, they refuse to accept it, because, not having been granted to their fathers, it was not received by them. . . . We are accountable for the light which they received, and which was handed down as an inheritance for us, and we are accountable also for the additional light which is now shining upon us from the word of God.”2

The principle of sola Scriptura allows a framework whereby God’s thoughts and purposes can be received unmixed with human theories and worldviews. Instead, a biblical worldview emerges from delving into the Scriptures (2 Tim. 2:15).

To what extent do you preach the Word of God, and not human speculations and cultural perspectives woven into interpretations of Scripture?

2. Sola gratia

The sola gratia principle (grace alone for salvation, not grace with merits) reminds us of the depth of God’s love manifested in unmerited favor He grants to those created in His image.

Here, Luther was not advocating antinomianism. He stated, “The law is divine and holy. Let the law have its glory, but yet no law, be it never so divine and holy, ought to teach me that I am justified, and shall live through it.”But, like Paul, Luther preached grace so convincingly that his hearers asked, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?” (Rom. 6:1, KJV). Luther’s position finds its echo in the words of Martin Lloyd-Jones: “The true preaching of the gospel of salvation by grace alone always leads to the possibility of this charge being brought against it. There is no better test as to whether a man is really preaching the New Testament gospel of salvation than this, that some people might misunderstand it and misinterpret it to mean that it really amounts to this, that because you are saved by grace alone it does not matter at all what you do. . . . This is a very good test of gospel preaching. If my preaching and presentation of the gospel of salvation does not expose it to that misunderstanding, then it is not the gospel.”4


Those who receive God’s grace are called to be gracious people. An attitude of gratitude should pervade the life of the pastor and all Christians, as consistent with the principle of grace (Col. 4:6).

To what extent does your preaching on grace expose you to misunderstanding? How is grace showing in your life?

3. Sola fide

For Luther, justification by faith alone (not faith with works) was central to his doctrine, as it is to ours (Gal. 3:11; Heb. 10:38). Ellen White states, “Our only ground of hope is in the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and in that wrought by His Spirit working in and through us.”5 She further states, “By His perfect obedience He has made it possible for every human being to obey God’s commandments. When we submit ourselves to Christ, the heart is united with His heart, the will is merged in His will, the mind becomes one with His mind, the thoughts are brought into captivity to Him; we live His life. This is what it means to be clothed with the garment of His righteousness . . . which is perfect obedience to the law of Jehovah.”6

The righteousness of Jesus Christ, the qualification to enter heaven (cf. Matt. 5:20), is the model for the pastor. “The ministers must be converted before they can strengthen their brethren. They should not preach themselves, but Christ and His righteousness. A reformation is needed among the people, but it should first begin its purifying work with the ministers.”7

To what extent do you, as a preacher and teacher of the Word, partner with God to emphasize the vital importance of righteousness by faith?

4. Solus Christus

Asserting solus Christus means that a Reformation Christian recognizes Christ as the only One who can offer eternal life and effect change. Paul acknowledged, “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice” (Rom. 7:18, 19, NKJV). Ellen White affirms, “It is impossible for us, of ourselves, to escape from the pit of sin in which we are sunken. . . . Education, culture, the exercise of the will, human effort, all have their proper sphere, but here they are powerless. They may produce an outward correctness of behavior, but they cannot change the heart. . . . There must be a power working from within, a new life from above, before men can be changed from sin to holiness. That power is Christ. His grace alone.”8

To what extent are you trusting self while preaching Christ?

5. Soli Deo gloria

The principle soli Deo gloria (only God is worthy to be worshiped and prayed to, not spirits, angels, Mary, saints, priests, or pastors) stands in opposition to the veneration of creatures instead of the Creator.

Since salvation is solely the gift of God, Luther believed no human being was worthy of such glory or praise. Instead of seeking popularity, power, or prestige, pastors are called to validate their ministry by embracing the humility of Christ who, even though the only One entitled to be glorified, did not seek His own glory. This was part of His kenosis, His emptying of Himself for the sake of revealing God, the Father (Phil. 2:5–8).

Ellen White says, “Keep the eye fixed on Christ. Do not fix your attention on some favorite minister, copying his example and imitating his gestures; in short, becoming his shadow. Let no man put his mold upon you.”The pastor’s life, and that of every Christian, can take no legitimate turn other than to empty self for the sake of God’s glory.

To what extent is your ministry, in all things, focused on the glory of God alone?

6. Presbyterii fidelium

The premise of the presbyterii fidelium principle, the priesthood of all believers, is that in the new covenant, God graciously grants access to Himself through faith in the righteousness of Jesus Christ (Heb. 10:19, 20).

Ministry is no longer based on lineage or belonging to a tribe or guild. All services are now available to all children of God, indwelt by God’s Holy Spirit and endowed by His fruit and gifts (1 Cor. 12:7). “To every man—and that means every woman, also—He has given His work, and this work each one is to perform according to his several ability.”10 In the final analysis, pastoral ministry is about equipping all Christians for their growth in Christ through the Holy Spirit for the sake of the mission of uplifting the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit before the world so that all people may be attracted to God.

To what extent are you training your members, or paying lip service to, this doctrine?

7. Ecclesia semper reformanda

The ecclesia semper reformanda principle states that the church is in a continuous process of reformation until God makes all things perfect again.11

Christ alone will be able to complete the Reformation, given His prerogative to renew all things at His Second Coming. In this perspective, reformation, restoration, and renewal are inseparable. The two original institutions, Sabbath (God’s day, not man’s) and family (God’s way, not man’s) are to be restored according to God’s original intent (Isa. 58:11–14; Mal. 4:4–6).

Regarding the Sabbath, Ellen White writes, “In the time of the end every divine institution is to be restored. . . . God’s remnant people, standing before the world as reformers, are to show that the law of God is the foundation of all enduring reform and that the Sabbath of the fourth commandment is to stand as a memorial of creation, a constant reminder of the power of God.”12

Regarding the family, she wrote, “Christ came not to destroy this institution, but to restore it to its original sanctity and elevation.” “Woman should fill the position which God originally designed for her, as her husband’s equal.”13 Restoration in the family provides a model for the church (Eph. 5:31, 32). Christians in general, and pastors in particular, are called to continue the work of restoration, an inseparable aspect of the Reformation.

To what extent are you participating in or hindering the continual process of restoration?

8. The doctrine of the sacraments 

Catholics maintain seven sacra- ments that they believe confer grace upon God’s people.

Luther maintained two sacraments, baptism and Communion and believed they did not confer grace but were signs pointing to Christ and His grace (Rom. 6:4; 1 Cor. 11:24, 25). For Catholics, the prerequisites for Communion are baptism and confirmation. Protestants, on the other hand, practice open Communion and come to the Lord's table as sinners, not saints. “There may come into the company persons who are not in heart servants of truth and holiness, but who may wish to take part in the service. They should not  be forbidden.”14 Protestants come to baptism as sinners, not as saints.

Whether the table of the Lord or the water of baptism, we do not clean up ourselves and then come to Christ; we come as “just as I am without one plea but that Thy blood was shed for me.”15

To what extent does your ministry extend the grace that baptism and Communion point to?

9. The principle of equality

The principle of equality is based on the fact that God makes no difference among God’s children.

Heinrich Gelzer states that Luther believed in “the unconditional equality of all, through the abolition of all distinctions; all the divisions among men . . . were to be lost in the divine unity of his original nature.”16 The principle of human rights, recognized by the international community in declarations and treaties, is grounded in the premise of equality. This equality is beautifully captured in the words of the apostle Paul: “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:26–28, NKJV).

Nothing less will be acceptable for today’s church, which is far more accepting of differences. Young people are passionate about diversity, tolerance, and justice.17 Their religion is defined not merely by doctrine and policy but by fairness, nondiscrimination, and mercy.18

To what extent does your ministry promote the principle of equality?19

10. Freedom of conscience

The principle of freedom of conscience is the cornerstone of the Reformation. The Reformation could not be completed without a comprehensive and consistent adoption of freedom of conscience.

The famous declaration of Martin Luther on the pivotal role of conscience is in order: “ ‘Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason . . . my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe.’

“According to tradition, Luther is then said to have spoken these words: ‘Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.’ ”20

Lack of conformity to this principle has tarnished the tremendous legacy of the Protestant Reformation. By siding with princes in the massacre of peasants, by allowing the murder of Anabaptists and the burning at the stake of Michael Servetus, the early Reformers violated the principle of freedom of conscience. This principle is an antidote against the violation of the right to believe differently or not to believe at all (1 Cor. 7:12, 13).

To what extent does my evangelism embrace tolerance and reject manipulation?

11. The principle of legitimate authority in belief and practice

The Reformation set limits to every authority and tradition.21

The adoption of Plato and Aristotle's philosophies brought an understanding of Christianity based on tradition rather than truth and emotion rather than devotion.22 Luther declared, “You should not believe your conscience and your feelings more than the Word which the Lord who receives sinners preaches to you.”23 A critical aspect of ministry is the ability to place principle above passion, and faith above feelings (Prov. 14:12; Matt. 15:9).

“Counterfeit holiness, spurious sanctification, is still doing its work of deception. Under various forms it exhibits the same spirit as in the days of Luther, diverting minds from the Scriptures and leading men to follow their own feelings and impressions rather than to yield obedience to the law of God. This is one of Satan’s most successful devices to cast reproach upon purity and truth.”24

To what extent have you adopted God’s Word as the source of authority in your beliefs, relationships, and ministry?

12. The principle of human dignity

The infinite worth of human beings, through creation in God’s image, undergirds every other principle of the Reformation.

God’s love motivates the incarna- tion to save the human family God created for fellowship. This principle is the foundation of human dignity, which in turn is the justification for all human rights. Pastors recognize people as temples of the Holy Spirit of God (1 Cor. 6:19): “Think it not lowering to your dignity to minister to suffering humanity. Look not with indifference and contempt upon those who have laid the temple of the soul in ruins. These are objects of divine compassion. . . . The love that is inspired by our love for Jesus will see in every soul, rich or poor, a value that cannot be measured by human estimate.”25

To what extent do you uphold the principle of human dignity in your dealings with those you encounter?


These Reformation principles irreversibly changed the Christian faith. Now “God calls upon us to make our choice on the right side, to connect with heavenly agencies, to adopt principles which have a reviving, restoring influence, which will restore in us the moral image lost through disobedience.”26 This is revival and reformation: a restoration of the Edenic model where the character of Christ is perfectly reproduced in His people, that He might come to take us home (Ps. 51:10–13; Mark 4:28, 29).

Earth’s final message will then parallel that of Martin Luther, E. J. Waggoner, and A. T. Jones. “The end is near! We have not a moment to lose!

Light is to shine forth from God’s people in clear, distinct rays, bringing Jesus before the churches and before the world. . . . One interest will prevail, one subject will swallow up every other,— Christ our righteousness.”27

1 Ellen G. White, Pastoral Ministry (Silver Spring, MD: General Conference Ministerial Assn., 1995), 27.

2 Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1911), 164.

3 Martin Luther, quoted on Grace Quotes, accessed Sept. 20, 2017, -divine-and-holy-let-the-law-have-its-glory-but -yet-no-law-be-it-never-so-divine-and-holy-ought -to-teach-me-that-i-am-justified-and-shall-live -through-it-i-grant-it-may-teach-me-that-i/.

4 D. Martin Lloyd Jones, Romans: Exposition of Chapter 6: The New Man (Edinburgh, UK: Banner of Truth, 1972), 8.

5 Ellen G. White, Steps to Christ (Oakland, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1892), 63.

6 Ellen G. White, Christ’s Object Lessons (Washington, DC: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1900), 312.

7 Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 1 (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1948), 469.

8 White, Steps to Christ, 18.

9 Ellen G. White, Evangelism (Washington, DC: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1970), 630.

10 Ellen G. White, Daughters of God (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1998), 134.

11 Cf. Michael Stangeland, “Ecclesia Reformata— Semper Reformanda (The Church Reformed, Always Reforming),” Lutherans for Life, Feb. 24, 2015, -semper-reformanda-the-church-reformed-always -reforming/.

12 Ellen G. White, Prophets and Kings (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn, 1917), 678.

13 Ellen G. White, The Adventist Home (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1980), 99, 231.

14 Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, (Oakland, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1898), 656.

15 Charlotte Elliott, “Just As I Am.”

16 Heinrich Gelzer, The Life of Martin Luther, the German Reformer (Cambridge, MA: N. Cooke, 1855), 72.

17 Cf. Adventists for Social Justice website at

18 Cf. Libna Stevens, “Do Millennials Care About Issues Affecting the World Today?,” Seventh-day Adventist Church, Adventist News Network, Aug. 28, 2017, -28/do-millennials-care-about-issues-affecting-the -world-today/.

19 Cf. “ANN Video Full Episode—September 8, 2017,” Seventh-day Adventist Church, Adventist News Network, Sept. 8, 2017, /all-episodes/episode/ml/ann-english/ann-video -full-episode-september-8-2017/.

20 “Martin Luther,” Trinity Lutheran Church, accessed Sept. 20, 2017, /martin-luther/.

21 Cf. Martin Luther, “Temporal Authority: To What Extent It Should Be Obeyed,” in Luther’s Works, trans. J. J. Schindel, rev. Walther I. Brandt, vol. 45, Christian in Society II (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1962), 81, 109, 110, 113, 114, 118, 120, 121, 126–129.

22 Martin Luther, “Temporal Authority,” 210.

23 “Quotes of Author: Martin Luther,” Grace Quotes, quote 11, accessed Sept. 20, 2017, /author-quote/martin-luther/.

24 White, The Great Controversy, 193.

25 Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 6 (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1948), 279.

26 Ellen G. White, In Heavenly Places (Washington, DC: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1967), 286.

27 Ellen G. White, Sons and Daughters of God (Washington, DC: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1955), 259.

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Ganoune Diop, PhD, serves as the director of the General Conference Public Affairs and Religious Liberty department and secretary general for the International Religious Liberty Association, Silver Spring, Maryland, United States.

October 2017

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