Remembering Martin Luther @ 500 Years: 1517 – 2017

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Welcome back to Defender’s Voice. This is Paul Kattupalli. This month Protestant Reformation has completed 500 years.  On October 31st, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five theses to the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg. That’s a great turning point in the history of our world because things would never be the same again. Martin Luther was born in 1483 in a town called Eisleben, in modern Germany, then part of Holy Roman Empire. He was born into a large family marked by poverty. His childhood began in hard conditions. He became a choir singer. Once or twice a week, he would go to the homes of wealthy people and sing for them. Then they would feed him or give him some money to buy the bread. When he was fourteen years old, he had a strong desire to go to a monastery, study theology and become a monk. But he had no money to support his studies.

One day he was singing before a rich family. The woman of the family, her name is Ursula Cotta ,felt sorry for Martin Luther. She told him, ‘Martin, I will help you to go to a monastery. I will pay for your studies’. Thus, Martin Luther started his theological studies. As he studied from Genesis to Revelation, he was particularly struck by the holiness of God. He was haunted by the question, ‘How can a holy God accept a sinner like me?’ He was perplexed by the glory of God. A terror descended on his soul: Luther called it Anfechtung in German. Anfechtung means assault. Who is assaulting his soul? Who is attacking his conscience? Satan. Satan told him:

God will never allow a sinner like you into His holy presence. Martin Luther never gained certainty that he was accepted by God. He became anxious and depressed. He was saying to himself:  ‘God will never accept a sinner like me’ Then he started to study the Epistle to Romans. He started to focus on these six profound words: The just shall live by faith. Justification by faith. We are justified not by our own righteousness but by the righteousness of Christ. This precious gospel truth brought liberation to the conscience of Martin Luther. Then, his chains broken, his heart relieved and his guilt evaporated: God will accept me through Jesus Christ His son. All I need is faith.

At that time, the Catholic Church was ruling Europe. The church would levy taxes and had unquestionable authority in all matters of faith. The bishops were having mistresses and raising illicit families. Martin Luther was distressed by the hypocrisy among the clergy. The church was also selling indulgences to people. Now, what in the world were indulgences? An indulgence is a form of payment for forgiveness of sins: ‘Tell me your sin, I will tell you how much you must pay to receive forgiveness from God’.

 

Coin Rings, Soul Springs

In 1517, Pope Leo X issued a special indulgence to finance the construction of the St.Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Then, Johann Tetzel came to the town where Martin Luther was residing. He called the whole town, ‘We are building a great cathedral in Rome, we need money, you must come and buy indulgences from me’. As the construction costs went up, so were the prices of the indulgences and the shoutings of the friars. Tetzel was calling people: “Get all your coins here ‘As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs’”. Martin Luther was enraged by those words, he confronted Tetzel with some tough questions: ‘Coin rings and soul springs!!! Where did you get this? You are building a cathedral. You need money for the construction. We get it. But, why are you linking forgiveness of God with money? Your indulgences became so pricey these days only the rich could afford to buy them. Does that mean the poor cannot enter the kingdom of God?’ The bishops were troubled by Martin Luther. They threatened him. They tried to cajole him: ‘Martin Luther, if you are unhappy with your job, we will give you a promotion, we will pay you a better salary, but don’t argue with us, Silence! don’t criticize our works’. But Martin Luther did not listen to them.

On October 31st, 1517, exactly 500 years ago, Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five theses to the  door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg. He went around preaching: ‘If you need forgiveness of your sins, come to the cross of Christ, it is not something you can buy with your money’. Reformation was the last thing on Luther’s mind, but the consequences of his actions were not under his control. As you can expect, Pope condemned Martin Luther. In 1519, Luther denied the authority of popes. In 1520, he published, ‘On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church’. In June 1520, Rome condemned 41 of Luther’s theses. Those days the church could execute its critics using death penalty. Martin Luther’s life was in jeopardy. The German princes who were unhappy with Rome provided security to Luther. Now he could not go anywhere without security guards. The Europe was under the Holy Roman Empire. It’s emperor was Charles V. In 1521, Charles V summoned Martin Luther to a small town called Worms. That is the setting of famous Diet of Worms. The emperor, his ministers, the top bishops of the church gathered around Martin Luther. The emperor looked at Luther and said, ‘Martin Luther, the Church has developed these traditions over the last 1500 years. Why do you want to trash the conventions of our mother church? Stop it, Stop it now. Apologize and we will forgive you’

Martin Luther looked at the emperor and said, “Since 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 world would never be the same again. Protestant Reformation was born. Christendom was divided into two major branches: Catholics and Protestants. Luther’s life also went through seismic changes. He got married. Martin Luther asked, ‘Where does it say in the Bible that thou shalt not be married? In fact it says, marriage is honorable of all’. Martin Luther got married and raised a large family. We can say a lot of things about Martin Luther but let me tell you 10 areas where we see his influence conspicuously

  1. Gospel of Lord Jesus Christ:

Martin Luther said, ‘Don’t complicate the gospel by adding human opinions and traditions. Keep

it simple. Remember three things:
Sola Fide

Sola Gratia

Sola Scriptura

Three solas

Sola Fide: Faith alone

Sola Gratia: Grace alone

Sola Scriptura: Scripture alone

First, Sola Fide: Faith alone. You need only one thing to get saved: Faith. We read in Romans chapter 5:1, “Therefore, being  justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” When you come to God in faith, you are justified through Lord Jesus Christ.

God gives you His salvation

His righteousness

His justification

his redemption

His peace,

His fellowship

His Holy Spirit,

His Word

His sanctification

His security

His heaven

God gives you a complete package.

How? Sola Gratia: Through Grace

We read in Ephesians ch 2:8,9, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9 Not of works, lest any man should boast”.

You are saved by grace through faith it is the gift of God. Not by your works. Martin Luther said, Don’t even try. When you work for your salvation, you are working for yourself, not for God, not for others, but for your own salvation. Your selfishness is quite obvious. Luther called it, ‘incurvatus in se’ – curved in on itself. Your good works are curved. They are distorted by your selfishness.They cannot save you. You must come to the cross where your sins are cleansed by the precious blood of Jesus Christ. Then Sola Scriptura: Bible alone;  in all matters of faith, Bible is the sole authority, it is the only authority.

  1. Freedom of religion.

Martin Luther told the church leaders, ‘I have to go with my convictions. That is where my conscience leads me. That is where the Bible leads me. Don’t force your views on me. Dont threaten my life. You follow your beliefs and I follow my beliefs’. That’s the birth of religious freedom. It’s not about who is right? it’s about freedom to follow my own conscience. After Martin Luther, religious freedom became a reality.

In medieval Europe, Jews were oppressed and persecuted for not converting to Christianity. Protestants, Jews, atheists now they all got freedom to follow their own convictions. Even in 21st century, there are many nations around the world, where changing one’s religion is punishable by death. That should change.

  1. Democracy: Emperor Charles V wanted to crush the Reformation right in its infancy. But, both His Spanish Empire & Holy Roman Empire crumbled in the process. England supported Reformation for its own reasons and ascended as the British Empire. The Church of England only partially adopted Luther’s teachings. Some people took Luther’s teachings more seriously. We call them Puritans. They said, ‘this is not enough, we need more freedom to practice our faith. We want to establish a new nation’. The Puritans left England and moved to current day North America as Pilgrim Fathers. Later United States was born out of their ideals. So, the followers of Martin Luther founded the first modern democracy. Seen from that perspective, Martin Luther is the father of the United States.

Democracy and religious freedom go together. Democracy without religious freedom is not a genuine democracy.

  1. Sovereign States : Martin Luther died in 1546. Reformation divided Christendom into Catholics and Protestants. Soon wars erupted between the two groups. Between 1618 and 1648, Thirty Years’ War was fought, the deadliest European religious war in history. That war ended with Peace of Westphalia. It laid the foundations of the modern sovereign nation-state. Why are nations discussing their borders today? Why are you carrying a passport when you go on a foreign trip? That is one consequence of the Treaty of Westphalia.
  2. Human Rights: Martin Luther preached the priesthood of all believers. Every believer has equal standing in the presence of God. This doctrine has political consequences. The king and the commoner both have equal standing before God. Martin Luther said, ‘Human rights did not come from government, they came from God’. Once upon a time, emperors, kings, popes and bishops demanded unquestionable obedience from their subjects: ‘We represent God, so under all circumstances, everyone must be obedient to us’ Martin Luther said, ‘I don’t think so, all of us are subject to God and inherit certain rights because we are created in the image of God’ Martin Luther King Jr fought for civil rights in the United States. He was named after Martin Luther, the Reformer.
  3. Freedom of Speech: Charles V shouted on Martin Luther at Diet of Worms, ‘Martin Luther, shut up, and be silent, I want complete silence from you’ Martin Luther replied, ‘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’. You see, it’s not about who is right: Emperor, or pope or Martin Luther. It’s about freedom of expression. Everyone has a right to express his or her ideas in a peaceful manner. Freedom of speech is under assault in our time. Freedom of the press is under attack. Journalists are being threatened in our time. We shall recognize that our freedom of speech is a gift from God.
  4. Print Revolution:  Martin Luther said, ‘If you want to change the world, pick up your pen and write’. During 1600s, Germany was producing more than a million volumes a year. More than a third of these books were written by Martin Luther. In modern history, Martin Luther was the first best selling author. He translated Bible into German language and placed it in the hands of ordinary men and women. The darkness that reigned over Europe and world started to dissipate. For the last 500 years, Bible remained the best selling book of the world. If you take a look at a night time satellite photo of East Asia, you will see one dark spot in the midst of glowing lights, which is, North Korea, where Bible reading is prohibited and possessing a Bible is a capital punishment. Bible and darkness cannot co-exist. Before Martin Luther, Europe used to be like North Korea. Possessing or reading the Bible was a capital punishment. Martin Luther changed that.
  5. Music : Martin Luther also promoted the music. This boy hood singer, who was singing for the wealthy families in his childhood, wrote great hymns in his later life, for the whole world, for many generations to come. For Martin Luther, life’s certainty and security come from God. Based on Psalm 46, he wrote ‘A mighty fortress is our God’. His hymns inspired many other great musicians around the world. For example, Johann Sebastian Bach’s Ein feste Burg, cantata no.80 was by Martin Luther. In ‘Preface to Georg Rhau’s Symphoniae iucundae (1538), Martin Luther wrote these words, “To speak of music transcends the greatest eloquence of the most eloquent, because of the infinite variety of its forms and benefits. We can mention only one point (which experience confirms), namely, that next to the Word of God, music deserves the highest praise. She is mistress and governess of those human emotions…which as masters govern men or more often overwhelm them…For whether you wish to  comfort the sad, to terrify the happy, to encourage the despairing, to humble the proud, to calm the passionate, or to appease those full of hate – and who could number all these masters of the human heart, namely, the emotions, inclinations, and affections that impel men to evil or good? – what more effective means can you find?’

Music is a gift of God, but beware, Martin Luther said, Satan brings his perverts to corrupt this gift of God. He wrote, ‘Take special care to shun perverted minds who prostitute the lovely gift of nature and of art with their erotic rantings; and be quite assured that none but the devil goads them on to defy their very nature, which would and should praise God its Maker with this gift, so that these bastards purloin the gift of God and use it to worship the foe of God, the enemy of nature and of this lovely art’

Five hundred years ago Martin Luther warned us that perverted minds would come which prostitute the gift of music with erotic rantings and Satanic worship. Take a look at the music industry in our time, you will see how accurate was his prediction.

  1. Scientific Method: Once upon a time Catholic Church was following the teachings of Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas. This scholastic method promoted geocentric theory. Scientists who questioned the Church were burnt alive. Galileo rejected this geocentric theory and promoted heliocentric theory – the  sun is at the center of the solar system while all planets revolve around it. The Church prosecuted Galileo, but Galileo did not give up. He stood up for his convictions.

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When you see Galileo before Roman Inquisition, don’t you think of Martin Luther before the Diet of Worms? Galileo was inspired by Martin Luther: When you think about something critically and come to unpalatable conclusions, often you end up denying and defying the authorities who oppose your conclusions. This tradition became the hallmark of scientific method. So, before Galileo, Martin Luther laid the foundations for modern science.

  1. Capitalism: Martin Luther promoted free trade with integrity and compassion. After the Reformation, there was religious freedom. Catholics,Protestants and Jews came together in Netherlands Spiritual freedoms evolved into political freedoms and financial freedoms. Capitalism was born. In 1776, Adam Smith published Wealth of the Nations, stressing the importance of Christian compassion and integrity in free market economics. German sociologist Max Weber wrote the book The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. In this book, Weber explained how the ideas of Martin Luther influenced the development of capitalism. Why did our society become a Marxist wasteland in our time? We forgot Martin Luther and the capitalism with Christian values. Now, I know, some people love Marxism and socialism. But let us talk frankly.  Did anyone die fleeing from West Germany to East Germany? How many people fled America to old Soviet Union?

Who wants to move to Venezuela? Does one take a boat from United States to Cuba? Does anyone try to escape South Korea to North Korea? Venezuela is blessed with many natural resources but Marxist ideas turned it into a wasteland. People only flee in one direction – from Marxist nations to capitalist nations. True, capitalism without Christian values wreaked havoc around the world. The solution is to add Christian values to our business models as Adam Smith advised. Marxist socialism is a recipe for disastrous economic policies. So, today we have seen the life and impact of Martin Luther: The Man of the Millennium. We have seen ten areas where his influence was profound.

  1. Purity of the Gospel
  2. Freedom of Religion
  3. Democracy
  4. Sovereign nation-states
  5. Human rights
  6. Freedom of speech
  7. Print Revolution
  8. Music
  9. Scientific Method
  10. Capitalism.

The most important thing is the purity of the gospel. Realize that you are a sinner on your way to God’s judgment and wrath. But the good news is God sent His Son, Lord Jesus Christ, to die for your sins and to give you hope through His resurrection. When you put your faith in the risen Christ, you are saved. Saved for an eternity.

PRAYER: Dear Lord Jesus, we thank you for raising great men and women for your service. We thank you for Martin Luther. On this 500th anniversary of Protestant Reformation, we pray that you bring another Reformation to our communities to uphold your Word, to have faith in you, and to transform our lives and our communities in the light of your Word. In your precious name we pray, Amen.

 

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