If our country endures for another six years, we will have reached an impressive 250 years as an independent nation. It seems quite a long time, but yet it has been more than 500 years since Martin Luther hammered his way into history by nailing his 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenberg, Saxony (Germany). These theses chronicled the abuses in the Roman Catholic Church in the selling of papal indulgences. Luther seemed driven by true pastoral concern for the souls of his people because he saw that they were relying on purchased pieces of paper to safeguard them from judgement and hell and time in purgatory rather than relying on the merits of Christ and his sacrifice on the cross.
It was what we would call Halloween – October 31, 1517, the Eve of All Saints' Day (or All Hallows Evening, or 'E'en,' or 'Eve' – but slur that together and you see where the word Halloween comes from). The course of events that unfolded from that day would land Martin Luther in exile under threat of death translating the New Testament into the German language. Luther was already a popular professor at the University of Wittenberg, and thanks to the new technology of the printing press, his Theses and other writings were soon in wide circulation. He became something of a hero to the common people of Germany.
His outspoken criticisms of common church practice landed him in hot water with Rome, and he was summoned to renounce all his writings at a trial before the Holy Roman Emperor in Worms in 1521. This posed a problem for Luther, because he always sought to anchor his beliefs, his teachings and his writings in the truth revealed in Scripture. Recanting, or renouncing his writings, seemed to violate both his conscience and what he understood to be reasoned outworkings from the teachings of the Bible.
Instead of recanting, he said, “Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason (I do not accept the authority of popes and councils because they have contradicted each other), 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. Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God. Amen.”
The rest, so to speak, is history.
I probably don't need to tell you that we are living in a time when it is not safe to speak contrary to the accepted ideological groupthink of the day. We may not be burned at the stake for believing otherwise, but we will be shamed, harassed and bullied via social media. We might lose our jobs. We will certainly lose credibility in the eyes of many.
So, on this day, I'm praying for a new reformation of hearts. May God give his people the boldness and conviction of Luther to stand for Truth no matter the cost. God help us. Amen.