“Luther Before the Diet of Worms” by Anton von Werner, 1877
Today is Reformation Day, observed and honored in Christian churches around the world. The primary focus is the work of Martin Luther, born November 10, 1483, in Eisleben, Germany. Luther spent his early years in relative anonymity as a monk and scholar but went on to become one of Western history’s most significant figures.
On October 31, 1517, Luther gained notoriety when he wrote a document attacking the Catholic Church’s corrupt practice of selling “indulgences” to absolve sin and nailed it to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. His “95 Theses” propounded two primary beliefs—that the Bible is the central religious authority and that humans receive salvation only by faith and not by works. His speaking and writing catalyzed the Protestant Reformation.
On November 9, 1518, Pope Leo X condemned Luther’s writings as conflicting with the teachings of the Church. Later, in July of 1520, Pope Leo issued a papal bull (public decree) concluding that Luther’s propositions were heretical and gave Luther 120 days to recant in Rome. Luther refused to recant, and on January 3, 1521, Pope Leo excommunicated Luther from the Catholic Church.
On April 17, 1521 Luther appeared before the Diet of Worms (this term has nothing to do with culinary mattersJ) in Germany. Refusing again to recant, Luther concluded his testimony the next day, April 18, 1521, with the courageous statement:
“Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason—I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other—my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen.”
Frankly, for a number of reasons, I often ponder whether the world and church are long overdue for a new Reformation! Much has changed in nearly 500 years. Authority concentrated in the hands of leaders who pursue power and crave control does not serve the church well!
Renewal and reformation will occur only if and when humble, courageous servant leaders, lay and clergy alike, pave the way for a return to the primary purpose of the church. The heart of the Gospel, God’s grace in Christ, has life changing power! That message must be proclaimed clearly, unfettered by trappings and traditionalisms that hinder its impact!
So today while the world observes Halloween, we Lutheran Christians join members of other Protestant denominations in thanking God for Martin Luther’s insight, courage and conviction. In doing so we remember things as they were and envision things as they might and ought to be!