Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Martin Luther's Steadfast Commitment to Scripture

On April 18, 1521, Martin Luther gave a measured response to a diet (pronounced "deet", an Imperial assembly) at Worms in western Germany. Luther was called by the Catholic Church and the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, to account for many of his writings and for his rather caustic 95 theses, which outlined many of the abuses of the Pope and the Catholic Church.

The outcome of this trial was that Luther was branded a heretic by the Church and would have led to his execution by burning at the stake if he had not been abducted by his supporter, Prince Fredrick III of Saxony, who hid him in Wartburg Castle. Prince Fredrick then began a coup with a number of Europe's Princes who were sympathetic to Luther which successfully convinced Charles V not to take the prescribed action against Luther.

It must be made clear that Luther had not initially intended to protest Catholicism or to start a different Church. His intent was to reform the Catholic Church, supposing the Pope and other Catholic leaders to be both reasonable and open to the conforming influence of Scripture. What Luther did not realize at first and was later shocked by, leading to the 95 theses, was that these leaders were motivated more by politics and power than Scripture. Thus, the change that Luther envisioned was unwelcome because it threatened their power structure.

After the Diet of Worms, Luther became a Protestant (that is he protested against the Catholic Church). He devoted his life to the creation of a Church that he felt was faithful to Scripture. His protection and his protest led directly to the Reformation movement in Europe, the development of the Protestant denominations, and to the concept of religious tolerance and freedom. Different reformers have amended Luther's views to varying degrees through the years, resulting in the many denominations we see today.

What would the world be like if Luther had not existed, or if he had been executed as a heretic and his books burned. Would we all still be Catholic? What would the Catholic Church look like? It was because of Luther that specific movements began within the Catholic Church such as the Anti-reformation, which, in-turn, led to the "Catholic Reformation." While the Catholic Church contains elements that Luther would still reject, it is a much different church than it was.

Many good things came out of Luther's reformation: religious freedom, the concept of Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone as a guide for action), the concept of the priesthood of the individual believer (we have no mediator between Christ and us), the separation of church and state, etc. But there have been some bad things that have arisen due to these good concepts: the enlightenment, skepticism, secularism, modernism, postmodernism, and socialistic humanism. These are twistings of good concepts that show us the nature of ubiquitous human sin. These twistings were held at bay by the oppression of the Catholic Church.

While Luther fought for good and noble purposes, and offered true eternal life, not through the advocacy of the Catholic Church, but through the plain understanding of Scripture and direct access to God, he left the door open to specific negative implications. In a time where people languished for a personal relationship with God, these implications could not have been foreseen. Yet with the advent of enlightenment philosophies, and later impotence within the churches, the effect has been a large-scale rejection of faith in the name of the same freedom that Luther fought for.

Should we wish that Luther had not fought? No. We should wish that the Pope had been humbled and changed Canon laws. We should attempt to hold to Scripture and conscience as Luther did and yet find common ground with other Christian brothers, unifying as much as possible in order to honor Jesus Christ.

Here is a clip from the 2003 movie Luther, portraying Luther's trial at the Diet of Worms.

Here is a "Martin Luther Rap" that is quite ingenious.

1 comment:

Timothy L. Decker said...

Good post. You got me wanting to rent "Luther" now. =-D