What Martin Luther said to me.

Presently, I am nearing the end of a family vacation in Germany.  Today, I had the opportunity to visit the city of Worms in which the Diet of Worms (1521) was held, leading to the excommunication of Martin Luther.  I had no idea how humbling and inspiring my visit to this city would be.  Standing in the place where this Father of Reformation defended his writings before papal hierarchy is a moment I hope to never forget.

Upon returning from this visit, I took time to read over Luther’s speech at this event.  If you’ve never read it, it is certainly worth the time.  A few noteworthy quotes are as follows:

  • “If I were to revoke what I have written on that subject, what should I do…. but strengthen this tyranny, and open a wider door to so many and flagrant impieties?”
  • “How much more should I, who am but dust and ashes, and so prone to error, desire that every one should bring forward what he can against my doctrine…I implore you by the mercies of God to prove to me by the writings of the prophets and apostles that I am in error. As soon as I shall be convinced, I will instantly retract all my errors, and will myself be the first to seize my writings, and commit them to the flames.”
  • “I rejoice exceedingly to see the Gospel this day, as of old, a cause of disturbance and disagreement. It is the character and destiny of God’s word.”
  • “I might speak of Pharaohs, of kings of Babylon, or of Israel, who were never more contributing to their own ruin than when, by measures in appearances most prudent, they thought to establish their authority!”
  • “If I am not satisfied by the very text I have cited, and if my judgment is not in this way brought into subjection to God’s word, I neither can nor will retract anything; for it can not be right for a Christian to speak against his country. I stand here and can say no more. God help me. Amen.”

Luther is clearly one of, if not the, greatest reformers in the history of the Church.  Similarly, in much, much, much (let me stress it, much) smaller ways, many of us are currently seeking some level of “mini-reform” (change) in our own churches and/or denominations.  And I think there are a few helpful concepts for us aspiring “mini-reformers” conveyed in Luther’s speech:

  • A boldness to communicate is necessary but must be balanced with a desire to maintain calm and integrity in what could easily become tense conversations.
  • An honest admission of one’s humanity and potential for error is necessary.  Though we may seek change, and we may strongly believe in that change, we must always hold a humble recognition of our ability to be wrong.
  • We must develop a true value for debate.  Luther himself rejoiced at the Gospel being a cause for “disturbance and disagreement”.  We must value the conversation as much as the conclusion.
  • Leadership and power must be given by God.  We must never begin to believe that we can self-promote ourselves into positions of influence in our church/denomination.  All sustainable positions of influence come from God alone.

What other important concepts do you find emerging from Luther’s defense?  Wherever you are, and whatever mini-reform you are pursuing, I hope you are both humbled and inspired by the words of this great reformer.

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Ryan Stigile

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