Thursday, February 19, 2009

Luther's Courage

This week I've been reading Roland Bainton's book called "Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther".

What stuck me most over the past few days of reading Luther's biography, was the incredible courage he had when facing certain death in the 1520's for his role in the Protestant Reformation.

It is likely that Luther never intentionally set out to be the leader of the Protestant Reformation. His initial objections to the sale of indulgences were not those of a radical attacking the Church from the outside, but rather, he was an insider...a monk and a scholar within the Church, who posted his Ninety-Five Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Latin, intending his work to be read by a learned audience. He believed that the clerics and the Pope would reconsider the sale of indulgences after reading his reasoned arguments and examining Scripture.

What happened next in quick order was that the authorities did not reconsider their position, but rather viewed Luther as a heretic. The Pope threatened to excommunicate him if he did not recant (in June of 1520) and he was ordered to appear before Emperor Charles V in April 1521.

Luther was aware that he was likely to be found guilty and killed. Here's what he wrote just before appearing before the emperor:

"You ask me what I shall do if I am called by the emperor. I will go even if I am too sick to stand on my feet. If Caesar calls me, God calls me. If violence is used, as well it may be, I commend my cause to God. He lives and reigns who saved the three youths from the fiery furnace of the king of Babylon, and if he will not save me, my head is worth nothing compared to Christ. This is no time to think of safety. I must take care that the gospel is not brought into contempt by our fear to confess and seal our teaching with our blood." (pg. 135)

When he did appear before the Emperor at Worms, his words were equally courageous:

"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. God help me. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise." (pg. 144)

The courage that Luther was able to express, in the face of certain death is truly miraculous. Luther was able to rest and have confidence in the Lord...believing that the God who had helped his faithful servants in the Old and New Testament would help him.

May we find the same courage from God, being confident not in our own strength but in His as we continue our life's journey,

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