April E News
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Plymouth Rock Foundation’s E-News – April, 2013
by Dr. Paul Jehle, Executive Director
“Here I Stand, may God help me, Amen.”
It was four o’clock in the afternoon on the 17th of April, 1521 when Martin Luther arrived in Worms, Germany. He arrived confident that what he was promised – a fair trial and physical protection – would be honored. But alas, tyrannical governments are not usually honest, and this would be no exception. It was only due to Luther’s intense popularity that caused Charles V to call the entire German Parliament, called a Diet, together to “hear” him. Luther was shocked when his books were lined up in front of him.
He was asked, “do you deny that you are the author of these books?” Luther, recognizing right away that this was not going to be anything close to a fair trial, admitted, “yes, these are all mine.” Immediately he was asked if he would recant anything he had written. Again, Luther was shocked for he had been promised a hearing on his beliefs, not a public accusation where the “Diet” had obviously already made up its mind. He responded “this touches God and His Word. This affects the salvation of souls. Of this Christ said, ‘He who denies me before men, him will I deny before my Father.’” Knowing the gravity of his answer, he asked for a one day reprieve – and amazingly, he received it.
Spending the night in prayer before God so he would be prepared to answer the German Parliament, he must have pondered the last three and half years when he unknowingly sparked a fire that brought him from being an obscure Monk who simply cared for people and searched God’s Word to become a household name, enormously popular. It was October 31, 1517, when it all started. He nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Church, hoping to start an open discussion with any who would listen on the veracity of indulgences, or “paying for the forgiveness of one’s sins.”
The response from the people was positive – for it challenged the deception of the day and brought them face to face with what the Bible taught rather than simply what they were told. However, the response from the authorities was swift. Luther had always thought that those in authority actually served the people and helped them seek after the living God. Instead, those in authority wanted to protect their power and keep the cash flowing in from the poorest of the poor regardless of what the Bible taught or the actual condition of the people. A Papal Bull, from the Pope, denouncing Luther, was the official response. Luther stood for his beliefs, and burned the paper! The people loved it, but not his superiors.
Luther was warned by some of his friends that there was no such thing as an atmosphere of sincere debate over ideas in Germany. But Luther couldn’t believe that the authorities would not be as sincerely open to truth. At 6 PM the following day, April 18, Luther gave his formal and now famous response:
“Unless I am convinced by the testimony of Scripture or by clear reason (for I trust neither pope nor council alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have cited, for my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything since to act against one’s conscience is neither safe nor right. I cannot otherwise. Here I stand, may God help me, Amen.”
This simple response become electric, and travelled all over Europe, sparking further reformation among God’s people who would rather die than deny the convictions of their conscience in captivity to God’s Word.
Luther paid a price for his response. On his trip out of Worms, his own friends kidnapped him to keep him from being captured by his enemies. They took him to Wartburg Castle where he lived in seclusion. However, God used this time, for while there Martin Luther translated the Bible into German as well as writing his most famous hymn – A Mighty Fortress is our God, using the imagery of the very Castle where he studied and wrote during this time.
Upon leaving the Castle, Luther found that lawlessness had begun, and people were rebelling against authority itself, rather than merely standing submissively for their conscience. Thus, Luther had to stand against some of the very friends who had stood with him many months before. In pondering Luther’s stand in April of 1521, some 492 years ago, we can learn several valuable lessons today.
1. We must clearly articulate and understand the non-negotiable tenets of our faith from which we will not compromise, regardless of the cost. Our consciences, like Luther’s, must be captivated by the Word of God, distinct from the opinions of men.
2. As it was in Europe and Germany then, so it is becoming today. The atmosphere in our nation is not open to the free discussion of truth, and we must be aware of that. However, we must pray that we can, with submissive and sincere attitudes, open discussion in areas where people can civilly disagree without being labeled and marginalized.
3. If and we must stand like Luther, we can only do so submissively, lawfully, and under authority. Rebellion is not something God condones, and thus if we wish to stand in Christ we must do so through the interposition of duly constituted authorities who have the responsibility of resisting tyranny. Like Luther, we must stand against lawless rebellion against authority, for God has instituted civil and ecclesiastical authorities for our own good.
4. Finally, we must realize that what we do (or say) will affect those who come behind us. Luther’s stand in Germany affected the growth of the Reformation throughout Europe. This was not only true of his stand for conscience, but also true of his mistakes. Let us humbly ask God for the right attitude should we have to peacefully stand for our conscience, for as Jesus said “when they shall… deliver you up, take no thought beforehand what ye shall speak, neither do ye premeditate: but whatsoever shall be given you in that hour, that speak ye: for it is not ye that speak, but the Holy Ghost.” (Mark 13:11)