More Than a Christian Alternative
By: Jonathan Harris
Normally, if I go for a jog I like to have some music playing through my earplugs to both make the exercise expedition seem shorter, and to motivate me. Today I did something a little different. I listened to a an audio recitation of Martin Luther’s Here I Stand speech at the Diet of Worms. Eric Till’s movie Luther, which recounts the events that lead up to the reformation including the Diet, does a great job in providing a pretty accurate visualization of Luther’s speech, however, nothing does Luther justice like reading or hearing him in his own words. Although, the film does provide direct quotations from Luther’s speech, it does not provide the full account of what transpired. In fact, the speech is somewhat chopped down to make it fit the film’s time constraints (still I fully recommend picking up a copy of the movie; it’s excellent!). However, Max McLean’s recitation of Luther’s words at the Diet contain every word of Luther’s two speeches, the historical background surrounding the events that lead up to the Diet, and Luther’s powerful and heart-felt prayer the day before his Here I Stand speech. There was no need for music. I had the motivation I needed, and the run seem to even go shorter. I truly do stand amazed, not only at the man’s oratory skills, but also at his humility coupled with boldness. Here was a man who had little to go on but the Word of God, and go on it he did. Contrast his available resources with ours. I mean, really think about what his stand meant. He was forsaking the only acknowledged “Christian” church without the support of any academics. We with our commentaries, books, software, Christian radio, seminary-trained pastors, Christian television, Bible study tools, sermon podcasts, etc. are spoiled to the point of both taking it all for granted and not taking advantage of it at all. Luther had none of this save the Scripture.
In the year 1517, on October the 31st, Martin Luther nailed 95 Theses against the Pope and Roman Catholic Church to the door of the Schlosskirche (castle church) in Wittenberg Germany. His reasoning? Pope Leo X, in order to raise money for the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica started a rather outrageous campaign for selling indulgences (writs to guarantee the lessening of a sentence in purgatory for a chosen friend or relative upon the transfer of money). Luther realized the great excesses of the pope in not only this but many other related areas, and through the power of the Holy Spirit was made aware of the truth behind what Paul stated in the book of Romans that “the just shall live by faith.” Suddenly, history changed. Christ’s infused righteousness became an imputed righteousness. Salvation was no longer about works but about faith. The priesthood of all believers and Sola scriptura were were returned to their proper place of theological prominence. The Protestant reformation was born. All of us who today call ourselves “reformed,” “evangelical,” “fundamentalist,” “protestant,” or “Biblical” owe a debt of gratitude to Martin Luther. I encourage everyone to download his Here I Stand speech and listen to it this Reformation Day (Oct. 31). You can download it free for a limited time here.
In closing, I would like to address something which has perturbed me about Luther’s detractors. Martin Luther today has been trashed, as have all the other reformers. There was a “missionary” who came to my church not to long ago talking about how to reach Jews for Christ (a noble endeavor). However, I was severely disappointed to find that in his Sunday School lesson he spent the majority of the time dismissing the crusaders, the early church fathers, and most notably Martin Luther for being “anti-Semitic.” Perhaps another time I’ll address the error in claiming that the crusades were anti-Jewish (they were the opposite if anything), but for now I want to focus solely on Luther. My church was told that Luther inspired Hitler. Really? That’s funny because if you read Mein Kampf you’ll find that Hitler didn’t like the Protestants or the Catholics, but he liked the Protestants even less because they weren’t “antisemitic” like the Catholics. In fact, the only semi-favorable mention Hitler gives Luther is to portray him as a hero of Germany- something every self-respecting German would readily admit (analogous to saying Washington is a hero of America). However, Hitler never goes into details or explains why Luther is a hero, just that he is one like all the other heroes of Germany including Bismark. Did Luther inspire Hitler? Absolutely not! Now for another question. Was Luther antisemitic. The answer again is no. As Peter Hammond writes, “The accusation that Martin Luther was an anti-Semite, responsible for massacres, reveals an ignorance of history. . . For decades he lovingly and patiently reached out to the Jewish people in his area with the Gospel.” Hammond goes on to explain that Luther evangelized the Jews in his area for 15 years and denounced the Catholic mistreatment of them. It was after 15 years of evangelism that he wrote “On the Jews and Their Lies.” To rip a statement out of this work and call it “antisemitic” is very misleading. Luther was a drastic man in the way he spoke, and he saved his worst words for heretics. The Jews were guilty of a great many blasphemies, and it was against these blasphemies that Luther wrote. In other words, it was a theological denouncement of the heretical Jewish religion, not a denouncement of their race or culture.
Peter Hammond concludes his article by asking:
Do those who so confidently condemn Martin Luther really believe, in the light of eternity, in the sight of God, that they have served God’s people and God’s cause and Kingdom with even 1% as much dedication and effectiveness as Martin Luther? If they do, it betrays an ignorance of history and a blindness to their own weaknesses.
So is it ok to celebrate Marin Luther? I think the answer is a resounding yes. We celebrate much more than him however. What we are really celebrating is the Gospel of Jesus Christ and its preservation through a man just like you and me. Happy Reformation Day!