Martin Luther’s in­flu­ence con­tin­ues to live to­day

The Weekly Vista - - Opinion - DAVID WIL­SON

Five hun­dred years ago, when Martin Luther of Ger­many taught that church prac­tices were not in line with bib­li­cal teach­ings, he wasn’t the first one to speak out on the mat­ter.

Au­thor Eric Me­taxas, in his brand new book “Martin Luther, The Man Who Re­dis­cov­ered God and Changed the World,” ex­plains this quite well.

“We must not tol­er­ate a sim­plis­tic view of church his­tory,” he wrote, “as though there had been no dis­sent un­til the Great Day of Martin Luther. Many oth­ers had done as much to bring the church back to its true and only roots and had failed.”

John Wy­cliffe of Eng­land had taught some of the same things 130 years be­fore Luther. Wy­cliffe was a the­olo­gian and pro­fes­sor at Ox­ford who helped trans­late the Latin Bible into English. As a scholar, preacher and teacher, he em­pha­sized the idea that the Bible was the author­ity in re­li­gious mat­ters and that each per­son should read the Bible for him­self.

This was a de­par­ture from church tra­di­tions at that time, and in the late 1300s Wy­cliffe was de­clared a heretic by the church and was to be ex­e­cuted. Wy­cliffe, how­ever, died in 1384 be­fore he could be ex­e­cuted. The Ro­man Church dug up his re­mains and burned them.

John Hus was a Bo­hemian min­is­ter in the early 1400s who opposed cer­tain church tra­di­tions in much the same way as Wy­cliffe.

In­side Hus’ church in Prague, one wall had por­traits of the dis­ci­ples wash­ing feet while the wall on the other side had pic­tures of men kiss­ing the pope’s ring. Hus wanted the peo­ple to see the con­trast, be­cause he be­lieved, ac­cord­ing to the Bible, that the Chris­tian church had strayed far from what it was in­tended to be.

Hus was charged with heresy and burned at the stake in 1415.

It is no won­der then, that Martin Luther ex­pected reper­cus­sions.

His­tory had made it clear that those who stood against the di­rec­tives of the church would pay a great price.

Luther, how­ever, never in­tended to place him­self on a col­li­sion course with the church in Rome.

As a young man, he had sim­ply sought peace with God and peace within his own soul.

Luther had prayed

con­tin­u­ally, con­fessed sin and was care­ful to do all the good works pre­scribed by the church, but none of that made him feel he was in good stand­ing with God.

He saw him­self as un­de­serv­ing of any of God’s good­ness and even once asked, “Who am I that I should lift my eyes or raise my hands to the Di­vine Majesty?”

Luther was dis­heart­ened, but he didn’t give up on his spir­i­tual quest. He con­tin­ued to wres­tle with his fears, seek­ing to know how a per­son could meet with God’s fa­vor. He wrote, “…I stood be­fore God as a sin­ner trou­bled in con­science, and I had not con­fi­dence that my merit would as­suage Him.”

Luther had searched his Bible care­fully as a young Ger­man monk, and when he be­came a teacher of the Bible at the univer­sity in Wit­ten­berg, Ger­many, his scrip­tural stud­ies be­came more and more in­tense.

One day a bib­li­cal pas­sage from Ro­mans 1:17 res­onated within Luther like a light pierc­ing into dark­ness. It sim­ply said “… the just shall live by faith.” Luther wrote, “Then I grasped that the jus­tice of God is that right­eous­ness by faith … I felt my­self to be re­born and to have gone through open doors into par­adise. The whole of Scrip­ture took on new mean­ing.…”

With fur­ther study, he be­came con­vinced that a per­son’s path­way to God was by faith alone through Christ alone. There were many re­quire­ments in the church that weren’t a part of that sim­plis­tic way of sal­va­tion, and Luther came to be­lieve that such prac­tices were ac­tu­ally keep­ing peo­ple from gen­uinely com­ing to Christ.

This led him to post his 95 The­ses on the church door in Wit­ten­berg, Ger­many, chal­leng­ing oth­ers to de­bate the is­sues he had called into ques­tion.

It was Oc­to­ber 31, 1517, and what started out as a per­sonal search for faith and mean­ing would soon put Luther at odds with the es­tab­lished church.

Much of north­ern Europe em­braced his teach­ings, but those in power re­sented Luther’s in­flu­ence and charged him with heresy.

At the Diet of Worms in Ger­many in 1521, he was asked to re­cant his be­liefs and his writ­ings but he would not.

“Un­less I am con­vinced by Scrip­ture and plain rea­son,” Luther said, “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. Amen.”

The teach­ings of Wy­cliffe and Hus had, in a sense, lived on through Luther, and this time the mes­sage would not be si­lenced by an ex­e­cu­tion.

Be­cause of var­i­ous cir­cum­stances — or be­cause of di­vine prov­i­dence — Luther lived.

And his in­flu­ence con­tin­ues to live to­day. We will con­sider the im­pli­ca­tions next week.

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