Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Captive to the Word of God

If I had to pick a significant event of the Protestant Reformation, it would be Martin Luther's trial at the Diet of Worms on April 17, 1521. This was nearly four years since he nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church. In the intervening time, Luther continued publishing critiques against the Roman Catholic Church's teachings on indulgences and the treasury of merit, which were not well received. Thus the process began of prosecuting him in both church and civil courts. Prior to Worms, Luther met with church officials to debate his position. Rather than supporting their stance from Scripture, Rome's arguments lay in the fact that the practices objected to were sanctioned by previous popes and church councils. Thus Luther was put in the unenviable place of stating that popes, theologians, and councils can err. By the time the Diet of Worms convened, he had already been excommunicated. This trial, presided by Emperor Charles V, was to seek civil penalties, likely execution, if he refused to recant. There was no opportunity for further debate on April 17, 1521. Luther was merely presented with a stack of his books and asked to identify if they were his, which he acknowledged. He was then asked to recant and promise to never teach such heresy again. Yes or no? His voice was barely audible as he requested another 24 hours to consider the matter. After spending the night in prayer, Martin Luther returned to the council the following day and delivered his famous speech. There was no turning back.

Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Holy Scriptures or by evident reason - for I can believe neither pope nor councils alone, as it is clear that they have erred repeatedly and contradicted themselves - I consider myself convicted by the testimony of Holy Scripture, which is my basis; my conscience is captive to the Word of God. Thus I cannot and will not recant, because acting against one's conscience is neither safe nor sound. God help me. Amen.

I will never be a pivotal figure in church history like Martin Luther, but there is much I can learn from his example. As a Baptist, I don't have a pope, but it can be easy to defer to a "pope" of my own making when it comes to spiritual matters. I greatly respect my pastor and other theologians past and present who have greater knowledge of the Bible than I do. Yet even if they are right, they can't learn or think for me. This does not mean that I go to a desert island with just my Bible and the Holy Spirit and see what pops into my head. Bad idea. No, the process of examining the Scriptures to see if these things are so takes place in the context of the local church. But I will miss out on so much if I short-circuit digging into the Word and wrestling with doctrines myself by taking another person's word for it. Likewise, I need to respect those who are in the same learning process. In my enthusiasm, it can be easy to bowl someone over by the strength of my convictions and sway them to come to "my side." But this deprives my brothers and sisters of the joy and benefit of searching the Scriptures for themselves.

So I want to take a leaf from Martin Luther's book. May "I consider myself convicted by the testimony of Holy Scripture, which is my basis; my conscience is captive to the Word of God... God help me. Amen."

Reformation 500 - A site dedicated to the upcoming 500th anniversary of the Reformation. It has a very helpful timeline of events with associated articles.
The Trial of Martin Luther - Another timeline.
What Luther Said - What did he really say at the Diet of Worms?
Progress to Worms from Luther and the Reformation - Lectures by R.C. Sproul

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