German Trip Connects Adventist Leaders, Laity, Pastors in Revival Focus
Wilson leads meetings, retraces footsteps of Protestant Reformer Martin Luther
By Ted N. C. Wilson, president, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists
Our Seventh-day Adventist believers in Germany are interested in the Adventist message, are involved in sharing with others, and want to be informed about the revival and reformation experience moving through our global fellowship.
That’s the good news arising from a recent trip to Germany that I was privileged to take along with some members of the General Conference’s leadership team, including Pastors Mike Ryan, Mark Finley, and Williams Costa, Jr. My wife, Nancy, also joined us.
The 10-day visit brought us to a number of historic places associated with the life and work of the great Protestant Reformer Martin Luther. His life’s work not only made the Bible accessible to all Germans, but it also was a tremendous forerunner to our Seventh-day Adventist movement’s birth and growth.
Our schedule was a varied and crowded one: Along with about 3,500 believers, we attended a special convocation organized by the Bavarian Conference in Augsburg. We participated in a special pastoral meeting in Darmstadt, organized by the South German Union and the North German Union, with a large number of our pastors in Germany. We spent time at Stimme der Hoffnung, or Voice of Hope, the division media center, advising on future evangelistic plans and participating in interviews. And we joined in a weekend of activities at Friedensau University, meeting with students, faculty, retirees, and many church members. A large all-day Sabbath convocation was organized by the North German Union, with about 1,500 members in attendance.
Germany today is a paradox: an estimated 65 percent of the population, some 53.5 million people, officially claim a Christian affiliation, but large sections of the population, including many young people, are secular in their outlook. Indeed, 80 percent of the people in the eastern German state of Saxony-Anhalt, where Martin Luther was born, are officially listed as not belonging to any religious body.
Witnessing can be a challenge in such a cultural climate, but the heart needs of people remain the same. I believe Seventh-day Adventists, in Germany and elsewhere, have a unique biblical message to share that meets those deep-seated needs common to so many today.
In Germany, in Europe, in your part of the world, and all over this planet, we must uplift Christ as the Living Word in our own lives and in our witness to others. When we share precious biblical truth, through the leading of the Holy Spirit, we can find many who are interested in truth. Friendly relationships with other faiths have their place, but these must not substitute for the core of Christian activity, that of sharing the gospel and three angels’ messages with those who need to hear. During our trip in Germany, emphasis was placed on the need to focus on the distinctive biblical truths of Seventh-day Adventists and not to focus on ecumenical activities.
In keeping with a strong emphasis on Bible reading, your General Conference leaders reminded German church members of their unique double heritage: as Seventh-day Adventists who hold the Bible dear, and as Germans who are daily surrounded by the heritage of Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation.
While in Germany, we were privileged to visit some of the historical sites associated with Luther and the Protestant Reformation. In reference to the church in Wittenberg where Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses, it was exciting to be in a place where the righteousness and grace of Christ were featured as opposed to the falsehood of human wisdom and salvation by works.
Another highlight was a visit to Wartburg Castle, where Luther was hidden from danger for about 10 months. Ellen G. White, in The Great Controversy (p. 169), says God also was protecting Martin Luther from pride during this period, since so many people were commending him for his leadership in the challenge to Rome’s authority.
It was during his time at Wartburg that Luther translated the New Testament from Greek into German in 10 weeks using 16 German dialects, effectively uniting the German language. Movable type, Johannes Gutenberg’s great contribution to literacy, had been invented barely 60 years earlier, and the new technology provided for a mass distribution of God’s Word to be placed into the hands of the common person. I found it a moving experience to stand in the very room where the translation activities took place.
Even with this rich and robust heritage of true Protestant thinking, today’s Seventh-day Adventists in Germany are finding the retention of members sometimes difficult in the face of secular pressures and intellectual attacks on the veracity of Scripture. The General Conference leaders who joined me encouraged our church members to
maintain a straightforward, plain reading of the Bible, even as pressure builds from the academic world of higher criticism to recommend new and more subjective methods of interpretation that conflict with the accepted Seventh-day Adventist approach to biblical interpretation. Seventh-day Adventists endorse the historical-biblical or historical-grammatical approach, which allows the Bible to interpret itself.
I also sounded a call for unity with the global church family: “We do not have the German Seventh-day Adventist Church or the Brazilian Seventh-day Adventist Church or the Filipino Seventh-day Adventist Church, but rather we have the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Germany, in Brazil, and in the Philippines. This is a worldwide
family led by God.”
During one of the various question-and-answer sessions held in Germany, one member asked how many of the 28 fundamental beliefs one must believe in to be considered a Seventh-day Adventist. Such questions, I believe, are predicated on faulty premises. The issue is not which fundamental beliefs can be dropped or must be kept, but rather, where do our fundamental beliefs come from? Our fundamental beliefs are not an arbitrary collection of statements to be adhered to only out of loyalty to a church; they are simply comprehensive explanations of truths found throughout Scripture. There is no part of the Bible or of our fundamental beliefs that is not important.
Throughout our visit to Germany, I appealed to those who were distant from the church, and from a close walk with the Lord, to renew that relationship with God and the church through Bible study, prayer, and a reading of the Spirit of Prophecy. I urged those who were bitter or discouraged to find encouragement in the church and God’s truth and participate in the evangelistic mission of the church to reach the people of Germany as we anticipate Christ’s soon coming.
It was a privilege to visit Germany and meet so many fellow believers. It is gratifying to know that there are many, many faithful church members who are longing to see Jesus come, believe that the Seventh-day Adventist Church is God’s remnant church, wish to be very much a part of the world family of Seventh-day Adventists, accept the Bible as it reads, cherish the Spirit of Prophecy, and are participating in the worldwide mission of the Advent movement proclaiming the three angels’ messages.
—with reporting by Mark A. Kellner