On October 31st, as young and old all across America dress up in silly, weird and scary costumes in order to extract as much candy as possible from neighbors, a far more significant anniversary is also happening. The events surrounding this anniversary are far more relevant than the latest creepy clown costume and hideous Hillary and Trump masks.
October 31, 2016 is the 499th anniversary of an obscure, young German monk’s changing the world forever. You see, it was on All Hallows’ Eve – the day before All Saints Day – in 1517 when Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses onto the castle church door in Wittenberg, Germany. This would set in motion the most significant movement in the past millennium of world history – The Protestant Reformation.
Luther never set out to be a revolutionary. He simply wanted to address the wrongs he saw happening within the Church of his day. His Theses were points for theological discussion among clergy, theologians, and other church leaders.
Yet, thanks in large part to Gutenberg’s printing press; Luther became an instant voice of religious freedom all across Europe.
The response from the politicians who ruled the Church was predictable, swift, and decisive. Luther was to be brought in front of the Inquisition and tried for heresy. If it wasn’t for the protection of Luther’s German benefactor – Elector Prince of Saxony, Frederick the Wise (or the Sly as he should more accurately be called) – Luther would have been just another martyr to die upon the pyres of oppressive Church tyranny.
But, God had other plans for Martin Luther. He was protected and allowed to write and preach for some time after the news of his Theses reached Rome. Frederick was able to manipulate Charles V – the Holy Roman Emperor – into allowing Luther’s case to be tried on German soil in front of German people.
In 1521, Luther was granted safe passage to the city of Worms where the Imperial Diet (read convening conference) was meeting. It was here that Luther was pressured to recant his writings and admit the error of his ways in order to avoid certain death.
What an amazing picture this was – a lowly German monk standing up against one of the most powerful rulers in Europe of the day, a huge assembly of doctors of the Church, a contingent of the Pope’s representatives, and the Emperor’s hand-picked prosecutor – Church scholar Johann Eck.
It would have been the easiest thing in the world for Luther to take the “out” they were offering him – admit he was in error, accept the correction and the discipline of both the temporal and ecclesiastical authorities of the day. He may have escaped with his life and even possibly remained in his Wittenberg University teaching position.
But, this pragmatical solution was not at all who Luther was. He was motivated by his sincere faith in Christ and driven by his desire to be a faithful servant of His Lord and Master. He also could not deny the clear contradictions he saw between the plain teachings of Scripture and the distorted dogmas of the Church of his day.
When Luther was pressed at Worms to recant, he concluded his defense with his now famous speech:
“Unless I am convinced by the testimony of Scripture or by clear reason (for I trust neither pope nor council alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have cited, for my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since to act against one’s conscience is neither safe nor right. I cannot do otherwise. Here I stand, may God help me.”
After Luther left Worms, he was declared a heretic by the Church, but was secretly kidnapped by Frederick’s emissaries and whisked away to isolation in Wartburg Castle. There, he worked on translating the New Testament into German so that his fellow countrymen could read the Bible for themselves.
By 1530, Luther’s influence led to Charles V’s concession of allowing the German princes to read their confession of faith at the Diet of Augsburg. From that point on, the German states would enjoy a modicum of religious freedom for the first time in their history since their ancient ancestors converted from paganism to Christianity.
Luther ignited a flame in Germany that spread into a raging inferno of conscience and religious freedom all across Europe; which also later spilled onto the American continent and laid the very foundation for the American nation.
Luther’s immortal words at Worms still resonate today. His stand for conscience and simple truth is a powerful lesson that many in today’s American Christian Church need to learn afresh. It is also a lesson far too many Republicans have never learned, or perhaps have forgotten long ago in their idealistic past.
To compromise one’s conscience for any kind of expediency, be it personal safety or “a voice at the table” is to destroy one’s soul from the inside out.
Sadly, too many in the Church today have either forgotten this truth, or have sold their souls for vague promises from jaded politicians and the best con men of the age. When Christians who have not forgotten this truth have tried to sound warnings, they have been largely shouted down, called “Pharisees” and/or implored, “Thou shalt not judge.”
When principled republicans attempted to have an honest discussion about the real differences within the Party at the National Convention, they were treated like lepers and silenced with the same kind of censorship the old Soviet Politburo was known for practicing.
In both cases, people who are sincere, principled and driven by their consciences have been shut out and denigrated by the same sort of fascists Luther ran into at Worms.
But, for those who have stood firm, the day of justification may soon to arrive. For those who have sold their souls for car loads of cash and influence, a day of reckoning is also at hand.
Now, let’s be honest. The outcome of this presidential election, regardless of who wins, will result in greater problems for America and significant losses of freedom for all who love the blessings this land and form of government have bestowed on millions and millions.
The world will suffer as a whole if America becomes further weakened by even worse leadership than we currently have. And, yes, it will become a far more dangerous place.
However, for those who are willing to remain standing firm upon conscience in the face of withering oppression and compromise, vindication will come one day. Eventually, all lies come to light. Eventually, the curtain is drawn back and the charlatan is exposed. Eventually, someone hears the little girl’s cry that “the emperor has no clothes!”
When those things do happen, people will crave answers from those they can trust to be honest with them. That’s where a whole new generation of “Luthers” must arise and lead the masses back to the very foundations of this nation – the Constitution and its Judeo/Christian underpinnings. If America is to survive, it must do so upon a foundation of truth, not media-generated hype.
So, as the 499th anniversary of Luther’s fateful act of defiance comes and goes, let us stand next to him in history and refuse to knuckle under to the forces of compromise. It really shouldn’t even be a question. For those who love the Truth, our cry is exactly that of Luther’s, “Here we stand. We can do no other. May God help us!”