“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.” (Romans 1:16, 17)
I hope you had a Happy Reformation Day. I did. Perhaps your reply to that is “Reformation Day? I thought it was Halloween.” You are correct, but only because some things are not out in the open, as they should be. You see, on October 31, 1517, a Catholic priest named Martin Luther nailed 95 theses to the door of his church at Wittenberg, Germany. These writings were items of concern to him regarding the corrupt direction of the Roman Catholic Church at that time. Some of his main points had to do with a fantasy called indulgences. It was a scheme promoted in Europe in order to get money from the faithful. It was a pretense, for the scheme was based on giving money, or goods to buy someone out of guilt for their sins. The price was set by the priest visiting the town on behalf of the church to raise this money. There were a number of priests involved in this scheme, which was widespread.
In Martin Luther’s area of Germany there came a Dominican friar, Tetzel, who was the architect of the plot there to bleed the people dry. Tetzel stated that “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings the soul from purgatory into heaven springs.” Luther opposed him, and had confrontations with him. It later resulted in the writing of the 95 theses, which were nailed to the door. This was not a rare thing. Often the door of the church was an outlet for news and announcements. This batch of information was different, however. First, it was written in Latin. Most of the people could not read Latin. Second, it was strictly church matters, and would not likely interest many outsiders. But because Luther preached on these things, it was spread.
Somewhat earlier the Lord had been dealing with Martin Luther concerning the life of faith. When he was reading Romans, and came across Romans 1:17, it spoke to him in an urgent and special way. He was especially attracted by the last part of the verse “As it is written, the just shall live by faith.” It was obvious that God was already dealing with Luther to instruct Him in the truth. He struggled with the truth of this verse. He sought advice from other priests. No one had a satisfactory answer. They all went with the Romanist traditions of interpretation. Luther was not satisfied with this. His struggles with the gospel were already causing interest from the pope. He had sent letters of censure to Luther already, so when he nailed these 95 theses to the door, it caused uproar in Rome. It was the culmination of an ongoing struggle between Martin Luther, and the Catholic Church over reform. Especially so in practice of donations for indulgences. However, there were other deeper issues that revolved around both theological concerns:
- On a theological level, Luther had challenged the absolute authority of the Pope over the Church by maintaining that the doctrine of indulgences, as authorized and taught by the Pope, was wrong.
- Luther maintained that salvation was by faith alone (sola fide) without reference to good works, alms, penance, or the Church's sacraments.
- He had also challenged the authority of the Church by maintaining that all doctrines and dogmata of the Church not found in Scripture should be discarded (sola scriptura).
The turmoil increased over several years, and finally in 1521, Pope Leo X issued the Papal bull Exsurge Domine ("Arise, O Lord"), outlining 41 purported errors found in Martin Luther's 95 theses and other writings related to or written by him. On April 17, 1521 Luther had to appear to answer charges at Worms, a city some 300 miles away from Wittenberg. It was at that time a journey of 15 days. Luther was guaranteed safety for his travel there and back. When Martin Luther appeared before the assembly, Johann Eck, an assistant of the Archbishop of Trier, acted as a spokesman for the emperor, Charles V. Luther was set to explain the meaning of the 95 theses, but Eck demanded that he either affirm or renounce the writings. Luther was very adamant, though polite, and asked for 24 hours to consider it, which was granted to him.
The next day when appearing before Eck, and the others at that hearing, Luther uttered these famous words. “Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures, or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted, and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot, and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen.”
It is interesting that Luther is sometimes also quoted as saying: "Here I stand. I can do no other". Recent scholars consider the evidence for these words to be unreliable, since they were inserted before "May God help me" only in later versions of the speech and not recorded in witness accounts of the proceedings.
The result of the Diet of Worms was that Luther was excommunicated and considered an outlaw. The emperor Charles V stated in the final draft of the Diet of Worms “We want him to apprehended and punished as a notorious heretic.” It also made it a crime for anyone in Germany to give Luther food or shelter. It permitted anyone to kill Luther without legal consequence. He had the guarantee of safe travel, but Luther did not trust in that. Others had been promised safety and were caught and killed.
In God’s providence someone was looking out for Martin Luther. Frederick III, the Elector of Saxony, had him intercepted on his way home by masked horsemen, and escorted to the security of Wartburg Castle at Eisenach. During his stay at Wartburg, which he called “my Patmos”; Luther translated the New Testament from Greek into German, and poured out doctrinal and polemical writings. Luther was protected by God for the purpose God had ordained for him. He wasn’t a perfect man, but he was a vessel of honor, used by the Lord in a mighty way to set forth the Reformation. It was January 18, 1518 when the 95 theses were translated out of Latin into German. It was printed and widely copied, making the controversy the first in history to be aided by the printing press.
So we must remember Reformation Day. Why do you think the devil has been so enthusiastic about Halloween? Surely you must know. The date is so obvious. Satan does not want mankind awakened out of sleep and following Jesus Christ. At all costs he has wanted that door to remain closed. Luther didn’t have all the light, but he had a lot. Those who came after him were given more. We need to work while we still have some light, for night is coming when no man can work. We must preach Christ to the nations. Pray with us about this ministry. It is getting out all over the world. Pray that God will anoint it, and use it to reach sinners. I am amazed at where letters and emails come from. We have only scratched the surface. We can do so much more. You can help us to spread the uncompromised word of God. Will you? Our Sermon Audio work is accomplishing much. I want it to do much more. Do you? God bless you!!