Martin Luther, the Human
I’m going to tell you about an ardent defender of the Roman Catholic Church. A man that once wrote an apology for his criticism of that church. A man that became very famous just for doing his job. A man that died of natural causes. He was a husband, a father, a man often thought of as fairly grumpy and even rude.
Any guess who I’m talking about?
Well, today is Reformation Day and five hundred and two years ago today the Lord used this man to change the world. I’m talking about Martin Luther.
Martin Luther has become somewhat of a superhero for Christians today, and for good reason. After all, this man stood faithfully on Scripture when challenged. He boldly proclaimed the heresies of the Pope Leo X and men like Johann Tetzel.
He was a man that clearly sought to please God in his life, and he was willing to lose his life for the sake of the Gospel.
But what about all those things I mentioned in the first chapter. Was Luther really a defender of the Roman Catholic Church?
Well, the answer to that is a resounding yes. Luther was a doctor of theology, and in his day that role meant that one of his jobs was to identify any malpractice in doctrine. In a very real way, it was his fidelity to the Roman Catholic Church and the doing of his regular duty that ultimately lead to the posting of the 95 thesis.
Did he really right an apology for them? Yes, he did. Apology in the classical sense is more akin to a “reasoned response”, but he did want to make sure that he was fair and even handed. He was even willing to flex on a few of his points.
And while we’re airing his dirty laundry a bit, Martin Luther ended up on the wrong side of history when it comes to Antisemitism. Many of his later writings are unabashedly anti-Semitic. Many these writings would play a very negative role in the rise of the Third Reich many centuries later.
To be perfectly clear, I’m not intending to be critical or overly harsh on Martin Luther. On the contrary, Martin Luther is a major hero of mine. He is one of the many men that I read about with nothing short of aw at just how faithful, brave and doctrinally sound he was.
However, my point in showing the “other” side of Luther is to highlight the fact that he was a human being.
He was a brave human being. He was a doctrinally faithful human being. However, he was little more than an ordinary man who sought to faithfully serve God.
In case you don’t know, 502 years ago, a doctor of theology nailed 95 grievances with the Roman Catholic Church (a document called the 95 Thesis) to the door of the local church in Wittenberg, Germany.
That action sparked the Protestant Reformation. Luther went on to translate the entire Bible into German, which was the common tongue of his people. That action alone could have caused him to get the death penalty.
He boldly asserted that salvation is by grace alone. That directly flew in the face of the Roman Catholic Church of the day, which at that time was literally selling documents that would "free" a person from God’s wrath.
He also boldly asserted that Scriptural authority was of a higher nature than church authority. In other words, he claimed that when the church authorities and the Scriptures disagree, then it is the church authorities that are wrong. It was this belief that fueled his passion for getting the words of the Bible into the hands of each person in a language that he/she could actually understand.
The Lord used him as the change agent for a movement that would change the entire world forever. I am so thankful for men like Martin Luther.
However, there is a danger when we hold men like this up as superheroes of the faith. Heroes of the faith- absolutely. There is just absolutely no doubt that what Luther did was heroic, but superheroes do not exist and that’s the danger.
God uses ordinary means to do the extraordinary. He can take a small-town monk and make him one of the most important men in history. God can, and does, do the same thing today.
Martin Luther was indeed a hero, but you have every tool at your disposal that he did- if not more. He was not some superhuman superhero with a special relationship to God. That same God is in control today and you can serve Him in the same manner.