Wednesday, April 18, 2018

April 18

Today is an important date in the life of Martin Luther. 497 years ago, Luther was appearing for the second day before the Imperial Diet called in the German community of Worms. When one looks at the history of Luther, they find this event marks the end of the first part of his reformation.

Luther began his protest with the 95 theses on October 31, 1517. These were primarily against the practice of indulgences and the doctrine of penance. Certainly, he did plan to begin a reformation leading to a separation from the papacy. But, the theses were translated into German, printed, and distributed, beginning a fire storm in Germany and the surrounding territory.

The more the professor studied, the larger was the gap between his understanding of Scripture and what was being taught by the Pope and Rome. In 1520, Luther published three key treatises, namely, "Freedom of a Christian", "On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church", and "Letter to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation". His writing clearly revealed that Luther now held to justification by faith alone, one of the mantras of the Protestant Reformation.

The papacy had enough of this "German monk", so the pope published a "bull" noting what Rome saw as forty-plus errors in Luther's writings. The document demanded he publicly recant of these errors or face excommunication, an extremely serious matter for sixteenth century Catholics.  But, Luther would not yield and, on December 10th of that year, publicly burned the bull. For good measure, he also burned a copy of Rome's "Code of Canon Law". He was officially removed from the church on January 3, 1521, four months before Worms. He was "anathema" to the Roman Church.

Luther was also viewed as a threat to the Holy Roman Empire. He was quite popular, especially in Germany, and the Emperor feared he would cause religious instability in his realm. This newly elected leader, Charles V, summoned Luther to Worms for the Diet, granting him safe conduct. Nevertheless, Luther was fearful, recalling how John Hus had also been promised safe conduct one-hundred years earlier and found that promise not honored! Hus had been taken and, ultimately, burned.

A Diet was simply a meeting of Holy Roman Empire political authorities to discuss key issues facing the empire and their resolutions. The Diet in Worms began in late January of 1521 with Luther arriving on April 16. As he entered the community, he was cheered. On April 17, Luther was called before the Diet for questioning. He expected to be able to present and defend his views. However, the papal representation asked him if he would recant of his errors and his writings. The Wittenberg doctor was caught off-guard.

An advocate of Luther and professor of canon law asked that the titles be read of those works of Luther deemed heretical. Twenty-five of his titles were listed. Luther affirmed these were his works. Asked again to recant, he requested a day to consider the situation and to provide a full answer. The Diet granted his request.

During this period, Luther prayed for several hours and discussed the matter with his friends as well as with others there whom he regarded highly. It is likely he had little sleep that evening!

Late on the afternoon of the 18th, he appeared before the Diet. Once more, he was called on to recant. Luther acknowledged the works were his, but he also noted they were of different types. Some of them were devotional. Some attacked abuses in the church. Lastly, there were some directed at specific individuals. He confessed some of them were harsh and he apologized. 

Luther gave his remarks twice, once in German and once in Latin. The papal representative then spoke:

"I ask you, Martin--answer candidly and without horns--do you or do you not repudiate your books and the errors which they contain?"

Luther, then, gave his reply.

"Since then Your Majesty and your lordships desire a simple reply, I will answer without horns and without teeth. Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason--I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other--my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen."

The authorities privately discussed arresting Luther on the spot. But, the Emperor refused to duplicate the action taken on Hus. Luther's safe conduct was honored. A month later, on May 26, Charles issued the Edict of Worms, pronouncing Luther an outlaw of the empire. Both church and state wanted him out of the way.

I doubt if Martin Luther would consider his actions on that April 18th to be those of a courageous man. He was fearful of going to Worms, and he spent the night before struggling with what he would say. But, the testimony he leaves with us from this event is his courage and boldness to remain committed to the Word of God. As he said, "my conscience is captive to the Word of God". And, because of that, he would not be moved or recant. 

Oh, that you and I might be so committed to God's Word that, even faced with possible arrest and martyrdom, we would stand as did Luther.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

A Dog Named "Luther"!

On Sunday evening, I discovered my pastor has named his German Shepherd "Luther" after the German reformer. Well known by many in our church, Martin Luther is one of my Christian role models or heroes of the faith. So, naturally, I have teased my pastor about naming his DOG after the good doctor! How dare he?!

Hopefully, he, and others, understand I am simply teasing on this matter. I could care less what he calls his pet. "Luther" is certainly to be preferred over "Arminius", "Pope anything", or "Hitler"! But, in reality, Doctor Luther would, likely, be honored to know a dog has been named for him.

Luther had a dog named Tolpol (with an umlaut over that first "o"). In English, the word means "fool". A German dictionary defines the word with the German word "dummkopf"! While that may not seem like a very nice name for a dog, the good doctor loved dogs. He wrote:

"The dog is the most faithful of animals and would be much esteemed were it not so common."

In his "Table Talk", Luther notes a time when, while he was eating some meat, his dog sat by the table, eyes fixed on his master, mouth open, waiting for a bite from the good doctor.  Luther saw a Biblical lesson in his pet's actions.

"Oh, if I could only pray the way this dog watches the meat! All his thoughts are concentrated on this piece of meat. Otherwise he has no thought, wish, or hope."

Naturally, not all dogs are created equal! Martin Luther often saw his enemies as wild or mad dogs. Concerning the Turks, Luther said, "The whole Turkish empire is nothing else but a crust cast by Heaven's great Housekeeper to His dogs."

Luther also viewed the Jews with a spirit that was anything but Christian. "We must drive them out like mad dogs...". 

When the peasants in the land revolted in the 1520s, Luther called for punishment, including death. He said killing them was "like killing a mad dog"

Finally, he used the dog in his explanation for dealing with the heretics he saw all around him.

"Over against the devil and his missionaries, the authors of false doctrines and sects, we ought to be like the Apostle, impatient, and rigorously condemnatory, as parents are with the dog that bites their little one, but the weeping child itself they soothe."

Since I do not consider my pastor (or his dog!) to be a Turk, a Jew, a peasant, or a heretic, I have no problem with him naming his dog after my idol!

"Good dog, Luther."

May God be glorified in all of this.

Thursday, February 22, 2018


"The world at the present time is sagaciously discussing how to quell the controversy and strife over doctrine and faith, and how to effect a compromise between the Church and the Papacy. Let the learned, the wise, it is said, bishops, emperor and princes, arbitrate. Each side can easily yield something, and it is better to concede some things which can be construed according to individual interpretation, than that so much persecution, bloodshed, war, and terrible, endless dissension and destruction be permitted. Here is lack of understanding, for understanding proves by the Word that such patchwork is not according to God's will, but that doctrine, faith and worship must be preserved pure and unadulterated; there must be no mingling with human nonsense, human opinions or wisdom. The Scriptures give us this rule: "We must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29)."

"We must not, then, regard nor follow the counsels of human wisdom, but must keep ever before us God's will as revealed by his Word; we are to abide by that for death or life, for evil or good."

"The Galatians had received from Paul the wisdom of justification before God by faith in Christ alone. Nevertheless, inspite of that knowledge, they were deceived and would have lost their wisdom altogether through the claim of the false prophets that the God given Law must be observed, had not Paul aroused their understanding at this point and brought them back from error. The Corinthians were taught by their spiritual wisdom the article of Christian liberty; they knew that sacrifices to idols are nothing. But they failed in this respect: they proceeded without understanding, and made carnal use of their liberty, contrary to wisdom and offending others. Therefore Paul had to remind them of their departure from his doctrine and wisdom."

Friday, February 16, 2018

Martin Luther on Faith and Works

This is what we have often said, that we Christians must break forth, and show by our deeds and before the people that we have the true faith. God does not need your works, he has enough in your faith. Yet he wants you to work that you may show thereby your faith to yourself and all the world. For God indeed sees faith, but you and the people do not yet see it, therefore you should devote the works of faith to the benefit of your neighbor. Thus this servant is an example and picture of all those who should serve their neighbor through faith.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Love, Friendship, and the Word of God

"Therefore, do not speak to me
of love or friendship
when anything
is to be detracted
from the Word
or the faith;
for we are told that
not love
but the Word
brings eternal life,
God's grace,
and all heavenly treasures."

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Luther and Some Words on Bible Translation

Some thoughts on translating the Bible from Martin Luther, who translated the original text into the German of the common man. 

Luther knew the translator was constantly walking a tightrope between adhering to the original text and providing a clear expression of the meaning of the text. Not every expression in the Hebrew or Greek can be translated literally into German (or English). For Luther, once he grasped the meaning of the text, he would translate the meaning. Concerning the work of the Biblical translator, he once said,

“(he) must see to it – once he understands the Hebrew author – that he concentrates on the sense of the text, asking himself, ‘Pray tell, what do the Germans say in such a situation?’ Once he has the German words to serve the purpose, let him drop the Hebrew words and express the meaning freely in the best German he knows.”

In other words, the translator must “let go” of the form and translate the substance. The translator must not be a “prisoner” of the text.

Every Bible translator understands the difficulty faced when the original text cannot be translated exactly into the target language. The devoted translator is not out to CHANGE God’s Word, rather he is trying to communicate the truth of the Word to others who do not understand the original languages. This is not an easy task, especially when certain Hebrew and Greek words carry doctrinal importance.

Luther clearly struggled with the same translation concerns. He wrote,

“(I) have been very careful to see that where everything turns on a single passage, I have kept to the original quite literally and have not lightly departed from it.”

Yet, he also noted,

“I preferred to do violence to the German language rather than to depart from the word.”

And, what about those words from the original writings which bear much doctrinal significance? The Reformer said, 

“out of respect for such doctrine, and for the comforting of our conscience, we should keep such words, accustom ourselves to them, and so give place to the Hebrew language where it does a better job than our German.”

Praise the Lord for such individuals who devote their time, energy, and resources into translating the Word of God into a language you and I can easily understand!

"Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God."