500 years ago this month…
Martin Luther, sparked a change in the church which spread across the whole world. Fancy a religious re-think having such a big impact! Trade-routes changed, power shifted, people were martyred (even here in England), the work-ethic of generations of people across Europe was inspired; and most importantly, the Protestant faith brought peace with God, joy in faith, confidence about forgiveness, and a deeper and intensely personal commitment to the Lord.
I love the things Martin Luther taught, and would call myself ‘Reformed’. I spent a month this year in Leipzig, Germany, where I saw the monastery Luther served in as a monk, the church where he ministered as a priest, the castle where he was imprisoned (for his own protection). His is a remarkable story, and as I walked the tourist trail to follow the most important parts of Luther’s life, I appreciated that more deeply and thanked God for the truths Martin Luther fought for. I want to share some ways I was encouraged in my own faith by the life and story of Martin Luther.
Luther feared God and not men. I am so grateful he stood firm in the face of threats from the church. At a special exhibition, I read the records of his debate with Johann Eck, and thought about his courage and willingness to risk his job, his reputation and even his life, to fight for doctrinal truths — truths I hold precious about how God forgives my sin, how he makes me his adopted child and keeps me in good standing with him for all eternity all on the basis of what Jesus achieved. These truths give me relief, confidence and joy, and, although they were known before Luther, they are passed down through history to me because he fought for them.
A key part of Luther’s campaign was insisting that people be able to read the Bible in their own language. He translated the 260 chapters of the New Testament into German from the original Greek in just 3 months! The relatively newly invented printing press meant this was quickly distributed. Luther offered ordinary people the chance to read God’s Word; he wanted everyone to follow the example of the Bereans (who we heard about in our recent sermon series in the book of Acts): “The Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians; for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” Acts 17:11.
All of Luther’s theology came from his careful study of the Bible, but he was not just an academic theologian but a caring pastor of his church. He knew his own failings before God and wrestled with how God could love him and yet maintain his just opposition to all that is bad and wrong. The freedom he found for his soul when he discovered this was down to Jesus and not Luther himself — not his good works, not his best efforts — is what spurred him on.
I spent a full month in Germany considering the various facets of this teaching on justification and other Reformation ideas which similarly has spurred me on for the work we are still doing today as we serve the Lord here in Stevenage. We all need a reformation of our soul under the careful hand of God, and the church would benefit from a return to zeal and teachings of the reformation – far easier since the Bible is already available in English for us all to read!
I hope you will come along on Sunday mornings and find your own soul lightened by the teaching in our Reformation series; that you’ll read one of the reformation books on the bookstall; find time to watch the film Luther (2003); and share my thanks for a courageous man and his lasting legacy.
This month written by Revd Daniel Freyhan, Curate