Wednesday, October 30, 2019
GOOD THINGS DO HAPPEN ON HALLOWEEN
3 Invaluable Treats We Have Received from Martin Luther's Bold Act on October 31
For the Christian, good things do happen on Halloween. 502 years ago, Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the Wittenberg church door, an act comparable to a Facebook post today. In it he challenged the authority of the Roman Catholic Church and its selling of indulgences, which offered forgiveness of sins apart from repentance and faith, but for the right price.
This act ignited the Protestant Reformation which changed both church and world history. In fact, after the year 2000, the editors of Life magazine listed Luther’s act as the second most momentous event of the past millennia, after the invention of the printing press in 1440, and before the discovery of America by Columbus in 1492, which was listed at number three.
Luther, despite his weaknesses, was a man uniquely prepared for a very unique moment in time. I have listed below three treats that we inherit from his bold act of faith on that Halloween day.
Courage to Stand for Truth
We live in a time when Christian values are under attack. Christian morality is mocked in the media and Christian students are subjected to ridicule in the classrooms of America. It is a time for courage, and in this Luther has left us a living legacy and example.
If Luther was anything, he was bold and courageous, so much so that his friends sometimes thought he was too bold. In giving a report to Spalatin about Luther’s bold stand at the Diet of Worms, Frederick the Wise said, “How excellently did Father Martin speak before the Emperor and Estates. He was bold enough, if not too much so (Hyatt, TheCharismatic Luther, 67).
It was, however, no time for timidity or reticence. The church was in shambles. God’s people were enslaved to an oppressive religious system that was obsessed with power. The times called for a courageous voice that would not flinch in the face of the greatest powers on earth. Luther became that voice that God used to change the course of history.
Such bold voices are in great need in the church today. There is so much hedging, evading and ducking by Christian leaders today when it comes to making a clear sound for truth.
For example, this author was astounded to hear a well-known evangelical pastor and leader, dance in circles when asked by a popular TV icon if Jesus is the only way to God. Instead of giving a simple straightforward answer, he ducked, swerved and feinted, but never gave a clear answer to such a simple, straightforward question.
Contrast Luther, who in a letter to Pope Leo X, dated September 6, 1520, and while still a Catholic priest, spoke with such clearness and boldness. He spoke with respect, even addressing Leo as “Holy Father,” but he did not mince words. He wrote,
I have truly despised your see, the Roman curia, which, however, neither you nor anyone else can deny is more corrupt than any Babylon or Sodom ever was, and which, as far as I can see, is characterized by a completely depraved, hopeless, and notorious godlessness.
We can all be thankful that Luther did not duck, feint and dance around the issues of his day. He obviously made mistakes, but no one could ever complain of not knowing where he stood. He changed history by being clear, concise, courageous and bold.
May God raise up a generation to proclaim His truth with that same spirit of courage and boldness.
Individual Freedom and Religious Liberty
Luther struck an incredible blow for individual freedom of conscience and religious liberty when at his trial for heresy he boldly resisted demands that he retract his teachings, declaring that “it is unsafe and dangerous to do anything against one’s conscience.” He went on to say, “My conscience is bound in the word of God, and I cannot and will not recant anything” (Hyatt, The Charismatic Luther, 27).
Freedom of individual conscience was practically unheard of in the medieval world into which Luther was born. Individualism was suppressed. Conformity to the religious and social norms, determined by those in authority, was demanded and enforced.
Those who veered from the established religious norms were punished, imprisoned and even put to death. Individual freedom was sacrificed for what was considered the good of the whole by those in power. Most often, however, it was not for the good of the whole, but for the good of those in power that individualism was suppressed.
By his bold stand at Worms, Luther unleashed a powerful ideal of individual freedom. Others took that ideal and brought it to America—the land of the free--where it was further developed on American soil. Freedom of conscience and individual religious liberty then became hallmarks of freedom-loving people and nations throughout the Western world. We have Luther to thank for this.
The Power and Priority of God’s Word
When you hear a public figure quoting the Bible or hear how the Bible continues to be the perennial all-time best seller, you can thank Martin Luther. Luther directed the attention of the church back to the Bible as the ultimate guide and source of authority for morality, life and faith.
In Luther’s own life, the Bible was supreme. His boldness came from his conviction that Scripture is the highest authority to which one can appeal. When, therefore, he stood before the tribunal at Worms, his appeal was to Scripture. “My conscience is captive to the word of God,” he declared (Hyatt, The Charismatic Luther, 27).
Luther’s high esteem for the Scriptures is expressed again and again in his writings. In his book, To the German Nobility of the Christian Nation, he wrote,
I would advise no one to send his child where the Holy Scriptures are not supreme. Every institution that does not unceasingly pursue the study of God’s word becomes corrupt (Hyatt, TheCharismatic Luther, 70).
The popularity of Bible studies within Protestantism, and now also within Catholicism, can be traced to Luther and his emphasis on sola Scriptura. When modern evangelists, like Billy Graham, hold their Bible aloft and preface their statements with, “The Bible says,” that is a direct legacy of Luther. Christians who are seen carrying their Bibles to church are acting in the legacy Luther.
In later life, when asked how he, a simple monk and teacher, had been able to have such an impact when opposed by both the pope and the emperor, Luther replied,
I simply taught, preached, wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing. The Word so weakened the papacy that never a prince or emperor did such damage to it. I did nothing. The Word did it all (Hyatt, The Charismatic Luther, 29).
Luther’s priority of Scripture for the individual believer, was something new and radical to the world of medieval Europe, which placed ultimate authority with the pope and church tradition. Luther’s placement of Scripture as the final authority above church tradition and hierarchy was momentous for the history of the church and Western society.
Yes, good things do happen on Halloween. The above treats, or blessings, have come down to us because one man chose to stand against the corrupt cultural and religious tide of his day with God’s truth. Luther’s faith and courage were deeply rooted in his belief that God’s truth would ultimately prevail. This is clearly expressed in the following excerpt from his great hymn, “A Might Fortress is Our God.”
And though this world, with devils filled,
Should threaten to undo us.
We will not fear, for God hath willed,
His truth to triumph through us.