(Part 2 of 3)
As the 95 Thesis began to go around, a man named Johann Eck. He debated Luther in 1519 and accused Luther of undermining the authority of the Pope. At the time Luther had nothing against the Pope, but after the debate he began to shift and think through these issues more carefully and concisely.
His thinking also began to shift on the meaning of grace and faith. He still struggled with the idea of a loving God who could accept him. He wasn’t good enough or sincere enough. All he knew was to continually repent of his actions and that didn’t bring him lasting peace. Often he would scream and shout, cursing the devil into the deep hours of the night. Yet that changed as he began to study the book of Romans. He came across chapter 1 verse 17, especially the clause: “The just shall live by faith.”
He finally understood the gospel. It wasn’t his righteousness that would merit him salvation, but only Christ’s. If he wanted to be righteous, he needed to look to Christ and him alone. In his own words he said: “Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise through open gates.” This good news helped recapture the true gospel, not found in indulgences, or penance, or sacraments, but only in faith in the Lord Jesus.
In the following years he wrote extensively, trying to reform the church. He argued against the Pope as the only true authority and interpreter of scripture, he argued against the separation between the clergy and the lay people, wanting a Bible in the common languages. He expounded justification by faith alone as the only way to salvation.
The Pope responded by sending a Papal Bull (an authoritative decree) that Luther either recant his views or be excommunicated. Luther responded by burning it. He was then summoned to the Worms to face judgement. He went to the Diet of Worms (the meeting) and stood before the most powerful men and bishops in the world, including the Holy Roman Emperor, all of whom would have him recant.
He was asked to take back his teachings, to which he asked for a day to think it over. He was told to expect the worst if he didn’t repent. After taking a day to consider the truth, he came back and famously responded:
“Unless I am convinced by proofs from Scriptures or by plain and clear reasons and arguments, I can and will not retract, for it is neither safe nor wise to do anything against conscience. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.”
The crowd broke into loud shouts, many baying for his blood, shouting for him to be burned on the spot. He was escorted out, and mentioned to a close friend when he was outside that even if he had a thousand heads, he would have them all lopped off than to deny the gospel.
Luther was excommunicated, yet the Reformation was only beginning, built on the courage of a monk transformed by the gospel.
Tomorrow we look at the end of Martin Luther’s story