Martin Luther, Martin Luther King Jr. both coura­geous

The Weekly Vista - - Opinion - DAVID WIL­SON

Sev­eral years ago I taught world his­tory to ju­nior high school stu­dents and the text­book had a mod­est amount de­voted to Martin Luther and the Protes­tant Re­for­ma­tion.

When deal­ing with stu­dents who are 12, 13, and 14 years old, you some­times have to ex­plain things clearly and care­fully from the very be­gin­ning.

“Don’t get Martin Luther con­fused with Martin Luther King Jr.,” I told them. “Martin Luther was a Ger­man who lived in the 1500s. Martin Luther King Jr. was an Amer­i­can who lived in the 1900s.”

“Both were Chris­tians and both were great men,” I con­tin­ued. “But they lived on two dif­fer­ent con­ti­nents and were sep­a­rated by more than four cen­turies.”

Then I pointed out that there was an in­ter­est­ing con­nec­tion be­tween the two men, in that the Amer­i­can got his name from the Ger­man.

Michael King orig­i­nally named his son Michael King Jr. but the el­der King was so im­pressed by the im­pact of Martin Luther that he changed his name and the name of his son.

From that point on, it was Martin Luther King and Martin Luther King Jr.

As his­tory tells us, both Martin Luther and Martin Luther King Jr. were coura­geous men who stood up for what they be­lieved was right. And, as a re­sult, both brought about great change in their re­spec­tive coun­tries, and in the world.

On Oct. 31, it will be ex­actly 500 years since Martin Luther is cred­ited with post­ing his fa­mous 95 Th­e­ses on the door of the Cas­tle Church in Wit­ten­berg, Ger­many.

Luther had been study­ing his Bible in­tently for years, and he felt that there were be­liefs and prac­tices within the church that were wrong and should be openly de­bated. Plac­ing de­bate top­ics on the church door was cus­tom­ary in Ger­many 500 years ago.

The fact that he fol­lowed the pro­to­col in post­ing the de­bate top­ics on the door on Oct. 31, 1517, is not what is sig­nif­i­cant. What is im­por­tant is that it marked the be­gin­ning of a ma­jor move­ment within all of Chris­tian­ity, a move­ment that called for a sim­pler faith, a firm re­liance upon the Bible, and a more in­de­pen­dent Chris­tian pil­grim­age for each be­liever.

Luther had come to be­lieve, based upon his un­der­stand­ing of scrip­ture, that popes and priests and church in­dul­gences were ac­tu­ally keep­ing peo­ple away from God and keep­ing them in spir­i­tual

dark­ness, rather than en­abling peo­ple to gain ac­cess to God and to en­ter into Chris­tian fel­low­ship with other be­liev­ers.

He con­tin­ued to search the Bible to make sure he wasn’t mis­un­der­stand­ing it or mis­in­ter­pret­ing any­thing that he read.

In his mind, he wasn’t. In fact, his con­science was very clear on this mat­ter. He felt that it was his duty to make sure that every per­son knew the truth of the Bible and that they could un­der­stand the clear path­way to God de­lin­eated in bi­b­li­cal teach­ings.

Latin was the lan­guage of the church and of the highly ed­u­cated in­di­vid­u­als in Europe at that time, but the com­mon per­son did not un­der­stand it.

Luther be­lieved in sola scrip­tura, sola fide, and so­lus Chris­tus. When this Latin ter­mi­nol­ogy was trans­lated into Ger­man, the com­mon per­son un­der­stood that Luther was say­ing scrip­ture was the only au­thor­ity in the Chris­tian life, and that a per­son’s sal­va­tion was by faith alone through Christ alone.

No more, Luther claimed, should a per­son have to go through priests, good works, in­dul­gences, or church coun­cils to be saved by God.

Luther took a great deal of heat for his stand. For cen­turies, mat­ters of faith and bi­b­li­cal in­ter­pre­ta­tions had been solely in the hands of church lead­ers, and many in the church hi­er­ar­chy be­lieved strongly it should re­main that way.

One ed­u­cated skep­tic asked Luther, “What will we get when any old plow­boy can read the Bible?” “Chris­tians,” Luther said. Five hun­dred years ago, when Luther posted his 95 Th­e­ses on the church door, he had no in­ten­tion of start­ing a great move­ment, and he had no de­sire to fos­ter a break with the Ro­man Catholic Church.

In­stead, Luther wanted to, in the words of au­thor Charles Col­son, “… ex­pose the busi­ness of sell­ing grace.” In other words, Luther posted the 95 Th­e­ses be­cause he de­sired mod­i­fi­ca­tions in the church’s prac­tices and in its the­ol­ogy.

As a Bible pro­fes­sor at Wit­ten­berg, Luther was very cred­i­ble, but of­ten when a per­son speaks out against er­ror at any level, harsh op­po­si­tion will fol­low. As au­thor Eric Me­taxas wrote in his new book on Martin Luther, “…he had no idea what dark forces he would rouse from their slum­bers.”

More on that next time.

David Wil­son, EdD, of Springdale, is a writer, con­sul­tant and pre­sen­ter, who grew up in Arkansas but worked 27 years in ed­u­ca­tion in Mis­souri. You may e-mail him at dwnotes@hot­mail.com. The opin­ions ex­pressed are those of the au­thor.

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