Today is the birthday of Christian reformer Martin Luther. Luther was born November 10, 1483. His father wanted him to become a lawyer, but young Luther instead entered Catholic holy orders and became an Augustinian monk in Saxony.
In 1517, Luther posted his 95 Theses on the door of the Wittenberg Church door, in the university town where he was serving as a teacher. Young Luther had earned his doctorate in theology, at a time when doctorates were rarer than Nobel Prizes are today.
Luthers 95 Theses disputed the church practice of selling indulgences. Luther read in the book of Romans that the just shall live by faith. It was faith, then, and not the purchase of indulgences that led to salvation, Luther maintained.
His bold move sparked a reformation of the Church. The still-new printing press soon spread Luthers ideas around Europe.
He was always in grave jeopardy. An earlier reformer, the Bohemian Jan Hus, had been burned at the stake for heresy for saying some of the things that Luther was saying. Hus (goose) said today you burn a goose, but there will come a swan. To millions, Luther became the Swan of the Reformation.
In 1521, Luther was ordered to appear before the Diet of Worms. Thats the name given to the imperial council of the Holy Roman Empire. That body consisted mostly of representatives of petty German states, what Churchill called pumpernickel principalities.
Fearing for his life, his friends warned Dr. Luther not to go. But he was adamant: I would go if there were a devil on every roof tile. When he was ordered to renounce his writings, and commanded to write no more, Luther refused. Before the Holy Roman Emperor, young Charles V, and the assembled nobles and clergy of the German nation, Luther proclaimed:
Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.
On leaving the city of Worms, Luther was kidnapped and taken for protection to the famed Wartburg Castle. Here, he translated the New Testament into German.
This was a great event in the life of the Christian Church, making the Word of God accessible to the poorest of the poor. Luthers translation of the Bible powerfully influenced the development of the German language and culture. It even helped inspire the translation of Holy Scripture into English with the King James Version.
Luthers legacy is honored today in his voluminous writings, his many hymns, and his love for the Christian life and home. Some of his more controversial writings and sermonsespecially his anti-Semitic rants and his more vulgar denunciations of the Popeare rejected. But his brave stand in defense of Scripture inspires us still. It is a tribute to his gifts that one can even hear his great hymnA Mighty Fortress is Our Godsung at Roman Catholic Masses.
By taking a stand for Christian liberty, Luther helped shape the life of Europe and the world. The concluding scene in the film Luther shows the nobles of Germany ceremonially bowing before the Holy Roman Emperor as they presented him with their copy of their evangelical statement of faith, The Augsburg Confession. Each of the nobles comes forward, bows, and offers to let their ruler strike off his head.
It is a powerful testament to their faith that they were willing to give up their lives for the Lord. It is also to be noted that Emperor Charles V did not have them put to the sword.
Europe, it is true, suffered greatly from wars of religionbetween Catholics and Protestants. But it is also true that the jewel of liberty is dearly won and never fully secure.
In many struggles over bioethics, human sexuality, religious liberty, and foreign missions to persecuted lands, we see Evangelical, Catholic and Lutheran Christians in our time working hand-in-hand against moral relativists and militant secularists.
Today, Christian liberty is very much in dangerin Europe and around the world. Even this day, Christians are being murdered in Iraq by fanatical Muslim jihadists who do not hesitate to strike off the head of those whose religious faith differs from theirs.
In Afghanistan, Pakistan, and throughout the Bloody Crescent, Christians are suffering for their faith. Let us speak for them. Let us stand with them. God helping us, we can do no other.