This year, Protestants all around the world have been celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation.
On Oct. 31, 1517, a young professor of theology by the name of Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. These statements protested some of the teachings of the church and were originally written in Latin and intended primarily for debate among clergy and scholars. Luther’s intention was never to break up the church or to start his own movement. It was simply to compare what the church was teaching with the Bible and to reform what was necessary. However, the Theses were quickly translated and became the world’s first viral post. The Reformation was born.
A little over three years later, it seemed like the Reformation was about to die when the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles the V, summoned Luther to an imperial meeting in Worms, Germany. Charles had dizzying amounts of power and influence that stretched from the eastern edges of Europe to the recently discovered New World and wanted to reunite Germany. Luther went to the meeting thinking he would be given an opportunity to explain and defend his teachings, however; he was really only given two options: 1) take back everything that he had taught and written, or 2) be declared an outlaw by the emperor and a heretic by the church. Option number two just about always ended with death on smoking stake.
After being presented with these options, Luther asked for a night to pray and think about it. He then appeared the next day and uttered his famous words: "Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason — I do not accept the authority of the 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. God help me. Amen." Luther simply stood on Scripture and believed that his teachings and writings did the same.
While these words of Luther have been etched in monuments and statues in Germany and around the world, often forgotten are the chilling words of Emperor Charles V: “I have decided to mobilize everything against Luther my kingdoms and dominions my friends, my body, my blood and my soul.” By God’s grace, which is nothing short of miraculous, Luther and the Reformation would live on.
For us, living 500 years later in a risk averse society, we might wonder what drove Luther to risk not only his name and reputation, but his personal security, freedom and even life. Why would he be willing to risk it all? The answer is that Luther had found the answer to life’s biggest question and nothing mattered in comparison. The question was, “How can I know that God loves me?” The answer was in the cross of Jesus Christ who died for the sins of the world. This is heart of the Reformation and the truth that led Luther to risk it all.