European Adventist Scholars Discuss the Freedom of the Christian

In the 500th anniversary year of the beginning of the Lutheran reformation, European Adventist theology teachers met in the heart of Reformation country to consider some of the contemporary implications of Luther’s ideas for their belief and professional practice. Seventy teachers of theology from fifteen countries – mostly in the two European Divisions (TED and Inter-European) – met at Friedensau Adventist University April 19-22, 2017. The title chosen by the German hosts for the biennial European Theology Teachers’ Convention was: Human Accountability and Liberty in the Light of the Reformation.

The backbone of the conference were four plenary papers, all containing the word ‘freedom’ in their titles. In between those, shorter papers of 20-30 minutes gave other scholars the opportunity to share their research. In the first plenary, Dr. Bernhard Oestreich, Professor of New Testament at Friedensau Adventist University, discussed freedom and responsibility as implications of Luther’s concept of the gospel’s orality. The paper was a powerful reminder of Luther’s words, ‘The Church is a Mouth-House not a Pen-House.’ Oestreich focused on Luther’s insistence that the word of God must be a spoken heartfelt event not just a ‘sound.’ “If the word is not experienced as an emotional event it is not the word of God….If the Word is not in our heart, we have not experienced it and until we do, we have no faith.” Here is where Luther’s concept of freedom comes in: “After the word is experienced, there is personal freedom to choose to respond.”

Dr. Denis Fortin, Professor of Historical Theology at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary and the only non-European to present a plenary paper, offered an Adventist theological perspective on The Freedom of a Christian and Human Accountability. He suggested that our roots in the Wesleyan Methodist Holiness movement have influenced our focus on proper behavior and that freedom is ‘a difficult reality for Seventh-day Adventists to experience.’ Even the American Declaration of Independence with its focus on freedom meant freedom for ‘white landowning males.’ Adventists, with their American roots, have tended, as a group, to focus on individual, inner freedom rather than the social freedom of others. “If I am free and God has forgiven my sins, should I not be concerned about how my freedom impacts on others?” Fortin asked.

In the third plenary, Dr. Zdravko Plantak, ‎Professor of Religion and Ethics at Loma Linda University, explored the tension between freedom and authority in the writings of Luther whose own professional name was drawn from the Greek word for freedom ‘eleutheria.’ Plantak explored the journey starting with freedom from guilt, self-centeredness and fear and moving towards freedom for responsible citizenship, loyalty within families and intellectual freedom under the authority of Truth. “Freedom is in believing the Truth,” he said, and ‘we can’t know what it means to be free until we know what it means to be human.” For Plantak, the essence of being human is to respond to ‘the centrifugal pull towards loving others and loving God.’

Dr. Reinder Bruinsma, writer and retired pastor, scholar and administrator, gave the final plenary paper with the title, Religious Freedom in the Lutheran Tradition and for the Adventist Christian in 2017. As a specialist in church history, Bruinsma recounted first the history of attitudes to freedom among Christians from the apostle Paul to the present. He gave a detailed account of the major part Seventh-day Adventists have played in promoting religious liberty in the wider world. He asked, “Should a denomination that has been so much involved in promoting religious liberty be prepared to extend that freedom to those in its own ranks who disagree?

In plenary session and table talk, there was a great deal of discussion among the scholars about the nature of academic freedom and freedom of conscience within the Seventh-day Adventist teaching community. The focus was on the latest academic freedom documents from the GC and the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary's recent support of the International Board of Ministerial Training Education (IBMTE) endorsement process.

But all was not academic. Every day began with worship, the week concluded with the Lord’s Supper, and on both study days, the programming included quiet moments at noon in the chapel. Study trips to Reformation sites in Wittenberg, Zerbst (the second city of the Reformation and home to Melanchthon) and Ziesar – where the group was treated to a ‘performance’ of the whole of the gospel of Mark by visiting Lutheran scholar Dr. Phil Ruge-Jones.

Helen Pearson is a counselor, psychotherapist, writer and trainer based at Newbold College in England, and a longtime elder of Newbold Church.

Image: Dr. Bernhard Oestreich presents his paper, “The Church is a Mouth-House not a Pen-House.” Photo courtesy of the Theologische Hochschule Friedensau Facebook page.

If you respond to this article, please:

Make sure your comments are germane to the topic; be concise in your reply; demonstrate respect for people and ideas whether you agree or disagree with them; and limit yourself to one comment per article, unless the author of the article directly engages you in further conversation. Comments that meet these criteria are welcome on the Spectrum Website. Comments that fail to meet these criteria will be removed.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/7991
1 Like

What a positive celebration of the Reformation! Perhaps even carrying it forward.
Thanks to all Friedensau for pulling this together while we here in 'Merika wring our hands at the daily revelations of how totally crass is our ‘christianity’.
Hoping to see reprints (SPECTRUM!) of the plenary speeches, especially Dr. Bernhard Oestreich’s ‘The Church is a Mouth-House not a Pen-House.’

May it be blessed.

10 Likes

It appears from this brief report that the freedom of the individual (especially from guilt and sin) was the main focus in understanding the Reformation heritage. To the extent that is true, was it not incomplete? Did not Paul also care about the freedom to accept the “other” as one in Christ? Did not the gospels urge us to have a social ethic as well as a personal one? Granted, this was not the theme of the conference, but in Adventism, it is so often overlooked in our understanding of what, in my view. the Reformers missed in their effort to restore the gospel to the church.

5 Likes

@jjlondis
I have only been able to listen to one presentation (I am with Friedensau’s social sciences department); but I can assure you that social responsibility was acknowledged and discussed as well - though indeed it may not have been the central focus… From my understanding the topic was taken from Luther’s major work “Von der Freiheit eines Christenmenschen” (“On the freedom of a Christian”). And yes, this particular choice may well be seen as a counterpoint to a streamlining “unity” (uniformity) which denies freedom.

Indeed it needs freedom … including freedom from self (individual as well as institutional), in order to be able to live social responsibility.

9 Likes

Freedom within. Or Without Adventism. As soon as credal influences. Are Interjected freedom is curtailed.

1 Like

I like the Baptismal promises another world-wide Denomination has.

  1. Do you believe in God, Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth [the Universe].
  2. Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, Crucifed, Died, Buried, rose again the 3rd day, ascended to heaven, is seated at the right hand of the Father, and will come again?
  3. Do you believe in the Holy Spirit?
  4. the Universal church of the Trinity?
  5. forgiveness of sins?
  6. the resurrection of the body?
  7. life everlasting.
  8. Will you continue in the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in prayers?
  9. Will you persevere in resisting evil, and whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?
  10. Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?
  11. Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect and dignity of every human being?

I believe these speak to the FREEDOM we have in Christ. FREEDOM we have with our non-believing friends and humans in the World. FREEDOM we have with each other in Community of Believers, and with whatever Christ-believing, God-believing community they belong to.

According to the Gospel of Mark, the great news of the Gospel is The Kingdom of God is here! The Kindgom of God is Near! Here in earth as it is in heaven.
And The Kingdom is Justice, Peace, Joy in the Holy Spirit.
And all are Kingdom Citizens when they distribute Justice, Peace, and the Joy that is in the Holy Spirit.

1 Like

The letters of Paul are addressed primarily to his churches, and their primary focus is how the gospel should impact communal and social life within those communities. The interior freedom of the individual, while there, is certainly a secondary concern.

The modern, western thrust of the preaching of the gospel, emphasizing individual salvation, a personal relationship with Jesus, and the corresponding results of inner peace and joy, seems to have arisen with Augustine, and was carried forward through the reformation and onwards. It misses the entire community thrust of Paul’s letters and gospel as the essential point. Freedom, peace, joy, and love, mean nothing outside the responsibility of living it out, and experiencing it within community.

We seem to preach and believe a gospel with a backwards order of priorities. God is looking to create a united, and loving new human race, that has been set free to love and live in true community, not just a bunch of saved individuals whose main goal is getting to heaven.

Thanks…

Frank

6 Likes

These three quotes should help in these types of meetings where opposition to dissent arises.

–"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968), US civil rights leader
–"The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. To be your own man is hard business. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself."
Rudyard Kipling - (1865-1936)
–“God has given us ability, to think and to act, and it is by acting with carefulness, looking to Him for wisdom, that you will become capable of bearing burdens. Stand in your God given personality. Be no other person’s shadow.”
Ellen G. White, p. 498, The Ministry of Healing.

It was near Friedensau Adventist University where Albert Einstein once said ““Don’t listen to the person who has the answers; listen to the person who has the question.”

4 Likes

Martin Luther’s “On the Freedom of the Christian” is a text that should be studied by every Christian. It deals with several aspects of the freedom Christians have in Christ. I will only refer only to one of these. Commenting on Paul’s limitation of freedom so as not to offend the “weak in faith” Luther makes a very important distinction. He says he would never exercise the freedom he has in Christ if it would offend the weak in faith. Dealing with those who feel “strong in faith,” however, he says he would go out of his way in order to exercise his freedom and offend them. They have no authority to limit his freedom in Christ.
I thank Luther for alerting me to this very important distinction.

4 Likes

Is this referring to the oral traditions that were written down centuries later in the OT? Or what, exactly, does “orality” refer to?

A most appropriate question in today’s world. It seems there is little tolerance in our church for new, informed approaches to interpreting the Bible.

1 Like

The real problem is this statement by EGW:
Investigation of Doctrine—There is no excuse for anyone in taking the position that…all our expositions of Scripture are without an error." {CW 35.2}

I put that poorly. The statement isn’t the problem, in fact it’s one of her most profound declarations.

The problem is that Ted Wilson has declared war on anyone who studies our ‘expositions of scripture" carefully enough to discover a candidate for one of the aforementioned errors. Correctly identifying such an error disqualifies a teacher for the "endorsement’ requirement Wilson is pushing in order to “purify” the ranks of our educators of all who believe in the principle of present truth.

Our pioneers rejected a creed for valid reasons and we have let them down.

2 Likes