Echoes of the Reformation

We must realize that the Reformation world view leads in the direction of government freedom. But the humanist world view with inevitable certainty leads in the direction of statism. This is so because humanists, having no god, must put something at the center, and it is inevitably society, government, or the state.
Francis Schaeffer

Key point: As in Martin Luther’s day, if one’s conscience is held captive to God’s Word, then to go against it is neither right nor safe.

 

Martin Luther is believed by many to have posted his 95 Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, on October 31, 1517. Even if he didn’t nail them there, his list of concerns about Catholic Church practices originally was written in Latin, but it was translated into German and disseminated throughout Luther’s home country within a scant two weeks. The printing press, which had been invented less than 100 years earlier, made this possible. By the end of 1517, all of Europe had access to the 95 Theses in pamphlet form.

The disenchantment and frustration with the church over its abuses grew even more intense as a growing number of people learned of Dr. Luther’s objections. Within a few years, the Protestant Reformation had become a widespread movement.

Frederick the Wise of Saxony

On June 15, 1520, Pope Leo X issued a papal bull, or edict, refuting Luther’s teachings and demanding that he renounce them. The Wittenberg professor refused, and a few months later, on December 10, publicly burned a copy of the Pope’s declaration. On January 3, 1521, Luther was excommunicated in Rome.

Luther had a ally in his powerful sovereign, Elector of Saxony Frederick the Wise. Frederick demanded a hearing for Luther. An assembly, called a “Diet,” was scheduled for April 17  in the town of Worms (pronounced “Verms”), Germany.

Two Searing Questions

Martin Luther was a controversial figure—loved my many, yet hated by many others. On the first day of the Diet, Luther was asked two questions.

  • Were the books and other writings on display before the assembly his? He admitted they were.
  • Would he or would he not recant? The renegade professor asked for a day to consider the matter, and his request was granted.
John Huss at the Council of Constance

Luther knew his life was at stake in these proceedings, even though he had been granted safe passage (transport) by Emperor Charles V. One hundred years before, John Huss had attempted to address similar concerns in the church and had been burned at the stake. What would happen to Luther if he, like Huss, were to refuse to renounce his views? Huss, too, had been guaranteed safe passage to the Council of Constance, where he was tried, found to be a heretic, and condemned to die. Obviously, Huss’s guarantee of safety was withdrawn.

Emperor Charles V

The next day Luther again stood before Charles V. Would he now recant? Luther explained that his books and other writings could not be placed in a single category. Even his critics, Luther said, welcomed some of them, and he would not retract what he’d said in those. A second category of works addressed abuses that were occurring within the Church. Luther contended he could not change his mind about these without risking a continuation of the very abuses he had opposed. Finally, other writings, he said, were about certain people. Although he expressed regret for the harsh tone of some of these, he did not retract any of the teachings they contained.

Here I Stand

Challenged at this point to give a direct positive or negative answer to the question of whether or not he would recant, Luther is said to have declared,

Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well-known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. God help me. Amen. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise.

Even if Martin Luther didn’t utter these words exactly, they represent the substance of his response. Disorder erupted, and the Emperor brought the Diet’s proceedings for that day to an end. Officials were divided about what steps to take next, but on May 26, they issued an edict that branded Luther a heretic and banned his writings. Now he was an outlaw, and it generally was understood that he soon would be arrested and punished. Execution, of course, was a real possibility.

Luther, however, had gone into hiding before the Edict of Worms could be drawn up and published. Frederick the Wise of Saxony had arranged for the Wittenberg professor to be “kidnapped” and hidden at Wartburg Castle. It was there that Luther began translating the Greek New Testament into German. This volume would fan the flames of the Reformation as would no other book.

Luther’s Bible, 1534

Our Consciences Are Captive to God’s Word

The entire story is fascinating, and I urge you to learn more about the Protestant Reformation. For now, let’s reflect on Martin Luther’s refusal to recant at the Diet of Worms. Read again his declaration.

Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well-known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. God help me. Amen. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise.

This is the kind of conviction we need to see in 21st America today. Dr. Erwin Lutzer, Pastor Emeritus of Moody Church in Chicago, said as much on the morning of October 8, 2017 at Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee, in this presentation. Here is an audio clip of his words.

I have good news for Dr. Lutzer, although I must hasten to qualify it.

  • The qualifier, of course, is that we do not have enough people like these! We need many more—and we need many more Christians who comprehend and appreciate the stands these Christian statesmen are taking. Also, we need many more who will stand with them.

Just as the Word of God guided Martin Luther to a clear understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ, so too has Scripture guided these men and women to a clear understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ as it relates to, among other things, the true meaning of marriage. You see, marriage is all about the gospel!

“But wait!” someone will object. These people and their convictions are controversial! Yes, they are. Martin Luther was controversial too, and so was Jesus!

Controversy is not the issue, but adherence to the truth of God’s Word.


I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. God help me. Amen. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise.
—Martin Luther—


Remember—especially if it is held captive by the Bible, it is neither right nor safe to go against one’s conscience.

If we as believers will stand together on the Word of God, speaking the truth lovingly and with conviction but refusing to renounce any of our core beliefs, we just might have another Reformation on our hands!

 

Copyright © 2017 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture has been taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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