On this day, October 31st, in the year of our Lord, 1517, an Augustinian friar (monk) in the Roman Catholic church, Martin Luther (1483-1546), who was also a theologian, priest, and a professor at the University at Wittenberg, nailed his 95 theses, which were theological problems he saw with Catholic theology as well as practices which Luther wanted to debate, to the Castle doors in Wittenberg. Many of the ideas in the 95 Theses directly challenged and contradicted the teachings of the Catholic church. Thus igniting a catalyst that would propel Luther to worldwide renown, cause major reform in theology and cause a split with the institutional Catholic church. This movement of reform came to be known as the Protestant Reformation.
The Reformation Luther started had been a match lighting a single blade of grass, the fire quickly spread into a fierce and mighty conflagration. Other Reformers joined Luther: John Calvin in France, Huldrych Zwingli in Switzerland, and John Knox in Scotland among others.
I thank God for this Reformation! It has been a mighty force for good in the world. The Reformation challenged the Catholic church’s dominance in the West as the sole Christian church (the Eastern Orthodox had broken off in the East with the schism in 1054 AD). At that time there was no separation of church and state. If you disagree with the Catholic church you would be murdered unless you recanted. A vast multitude of people across the centuries were tortured and murdered by the Catholic church.
The Reformation grew from its humble beginnings to a mighty movement of God that spread through Western Europe. The Reformers had some theological disagreements, but they agreed on the fact that God was sovereign and that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, according to Scripture alone, for the glory of God alone. Salvation through faith alone (Sola Fide) was the centerpiece, the sine qua non, of the Reformation. In fact, Martin Luther argued that justification by faith alone is the doctrine on which the church stands or falls.
The Catholic church teaches that we are saved by faith, in cooperation with our works. This is a synergistic process (God and man work together), whereas the Reformers argued that the salvation process is monergistic (God working alone). This is because in Reformed soteriology (how we are saved), man is born totally depraved (every aspect of his being is corrupted by sin) due to the Fall (when Adam disobeyed God and fell into sin). We are spiritually dead and God breathes spiritual life into us when the Holy Spirit regenerates us. Repentance precedes faith. Both repentance and faith are gifts that we receive by God’s unmerited grace alone.
In Reformed theology, our faith is predicated on the Word of God (Scripture). That is the standard. Scripture alone (Sola Scriptura) is our highest authority: not the Catholic pope, not the Catholic cardinals and bishops, not the so-called infallible Magisterium (teaching authority) of the Catholic church, which asserts itself to have the same level of authority as Scripture. It is axiomatic and self-evident that God’s Word should be the supreme rule of our lives. Scripture doesn’t need to explicitly declare itself to the highest authority. But in fact, Scripture does say that it equips us for every good work.
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.2 Timothy 3:16-17
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.Hebrews 4:12
The Catholic church realized this new spiritual revolution posed a major threat to its power. They sent assassins to murder Luther, but God preserved his life. If one studies the Reformation carefully, the providential hand of God is readily apparent.
What the Reformation was truly about was God’s glory; a return to biblical faith which alone is saving faith. Over many centuries of man-made traditions, opinions by popes and councils, and so-called Early Church Fathers, all developing new doctrines which would have been utterly alien to the New Testament Church. It is the Reformers who called us back to the faith of the Apostles without additional doctrinal accretions. The Reformed Church gives God the highest degree of glory.
Here is an outstanding documentary, Luther: The Life and Legacy of the German Reformer, produced by Ligonier Ministries (founded by R. C. Sproul), which examines Luther’s life and his impact on the world, as well as his lasting legacy.
Luther had been called before the Emperor Charles V, as well as Roman Catholic theologians, at the Diet of Worms, to give recant his dangerous ideas. Luther refused to recant, and instead he gave a passionate and stirring speech (known as the Here I Stand speech) which said that he would stand on God’s Word.
Diet of Worms Speech
The following translation comes from The History of the Reformation in the Sixteenth Century by Jean-Henri Merle d’Aubigne (l. 1794-1872), translated by David Dundas Scott. Slight changes have been made in spelling and punctuation and passages clarified by Lyndal Roper’s Martin Luther: Renegade and Prophet and Roland H. Bainton’s Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther. Biblical citations are from the original text.
Most Serene Emperor, Illustrious Princes, Gracious Lords:
I this day appear before you in all humility, according to your command, and I implore your Majesty and your august highnesses, by the mercies of God, to listen with favor to the defense of a cause which I am well assured is just and right. I ask pardon, if by reason of my ignorance, I am wanting in the manners that befit a court; for I have not been brought up in king’s palaces, but in the seclusion of a cloister and I claim no other merit than that of having spoken and written with the simplicity of mind which regards nothing but the glory of God and the pure instruction of the people of Christ.
Two questions were yesterday put to me by his imperial majesty; the first, whether I was the author of the books whose titles were read; the second, whether I wished to revoke or defend the doctrine I have taught. I answered the first directly, and I adhere to that answer: that these books are mine and published by me, except so far as they may have been altered or interpolated by the craft or officiousness of opponents. As for the second question, I am now about to reply to it and I must first entreat your Majesty and your Highnesses to deign to consider that I have composed writings on very different subjects. In some, I have discussed faith and good works, in a spirit at once so pure, clear, and Christian, that even my adversaries themselves, far from finding anything to censure, confess that these writings are profitable, and deserve to be perused by devout persons. The pope’s bull, violent as it is, acknowledges this. What, then, should I be doing if I were now to retract these writings? Wretched man! I alone, of all men living, should be abandoning truths approved by the unanimous vote of friends and enemies, and should be opposing doctrines that the whole world glorifies in confessing!
I have composed, secondly, certain works against the papacy, wherein I have attacked such as by false doctrines, irregular lives, and scandalous examples, afflict the Christian world, and ruin the bodies and souls of men. And is not this confirmed by the grief of all who fear God? Is it not manifest that the laws and human doctrines of the popes entangle, vex, and distress the consciences of the faithful, while the crying and endless extortions of Rome engulf the property and wealth of Christendom, and more particularly of this illustrious nation? Yet it is a perpetual statute that the laws and doctrines of the pope be held erroneous and reprobate when they are contrary to the Gospel and the opinions of the Church fathers.
If I were to revoke what I have written on that subject, what should I do but strengthen this tyranny and open a wider door to so many and flagrant impieties? Bearing down all resistance with fresh fury, we should behold these proud men swell, foam, and rage more than ever! And not merely would the yoke which now weighs down Christians be made more grinding by my retraction, it would thereby become, so to speak, lawful, for, by my retraction, it would receive confirmation from your most serene majesty, and all the States of the Empire. Great God! I should thus be like to an infamous cloak, used to hide and cover over every kind of malice and tyranny.
In the third and last place, I have written some books against private individuals, who had undertaken to defend the tyranny of Rome by destroying the faith. I freely confess that I may have attacked such persons with more violence than was consistent with my profession as an ecclesiastic; I do not think of myself as a saint, but neither can I retract these books. Because I should, by so doing, sanction the impieties of my opponents, and they would thence take occasion to crush God’s people with still more cruelty.
Yet, as I am a mere man, and not God, I will defend myself after the example of Jesus Christ, who said: “If I have spoken evil, bear witness against me; but if well, why doest thou strike me?” (John 18:23). How much more should I, who am but dust and ashes, and so prone to error, desire that everyone should bring forward what he can against my doctrine. Therefore, most serene emperor, and you illustrious princes, and all, whether high or low, who hear me, I implore you by the mercies of God to prove to me by the writings of the prophets and apostles that I am in error. As soon as I shall be convinced, I will instantly retract all my errors, and will myself be the first to seize my writings and commit them to the flames.
What I have just said will, I think, clearly show that I have well considered and weighed, not only the dangers to which I am exposing myself, but also the parties and dissentions excited in the world by means of my doctrine, of which I was yesterday so gravely admonished. But far from being dismayed by them, I rejoice exceedingly to see the Gospel this day, as of old, a cause of disturbance and disagreement; for such is the character and destiny of God’s Word. “I came not to send peace unto the earth, but a sword,” said Jesus Christ. “For I am come to set a man at variance against his father and the daughter against her mother and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law and a man’s foes shall be those of his own household.” (Matthew 10:34-36)
God is wonderful and terrible in His counsels. Let us have a care, lest in our endeavors to arrest discords, we be bound to fight against the holy word of God and bring down upon our heads a frightful deluge of inextricable dangers, present disaster, and everlasting desolations. Let us have a care that the reign of the young and noble prince, the Emperor Charles, on whom, next to God, we build so many hopes, should not only commence, but continue and terminate its course, under the most favorable auspices.
I might cite examples drawn from the oracles of God. I might speak of Pharaohs, of kings in Babylon, or of Israel, who were never more contributing to their own ruin than when, by measures in appearances most prudent, they thought to establish their authority! God removeth the mountains and they know not (Job 9:5). In speaking thus, I do not suppose that such noble princes have need of my poor judgment; but I wish to acquit myself of a duty whose fulfillment my native Germany has a right to expect from her children. And so, commending myself to your august majesty, and your most serene highnesses, I beseech you in all humility, not to permit the hatred of my enemies to rain upon me an indignation I have not deserved. I have done.Martin Luther, Diet of Worms, 1521
At this point in the hearing, Luther was asked by Charles V to repeat what he had said in German in Latin. He was told to answer simply, and without the art of oratory, whether he would retract his statements or stand by them. He then concluded with the most famous passage of his speech.
Since your most serene majesty and your highnesses require of me a simple, clear, and direct answer, I will give one, and it is this: I cannot submit my faith either to the pope or to the council, because it is clear that they have fallen into error and even into inconsistency with themselves. If, then, I am not convinced by proof from Holy Scripture, or by cogent reasons, if I am not satisfied by the very text I have cited, and if my judgment is not in this way brought into subjection to God’s word, I neither can nor will retract anything; for it cannot be either safe or honest for a Christian to speak against his conscience. Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen.Martin Luther, Diet of Worms, 1521
“Here I Stand” Line
The now-famous concluding sentence – “Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise” – is thought by modern scholars to have been added later, but this claim continues to be debated. Scholar Lyndal Roper notes, “If he did not say these words, this was the phrase that soon became famous. It certainly encapsulated the spirit of his appearance”. Scholar Roland H. Bainton comments:
The earliest printed version [of the speech] added the words: “Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise.” The words, though not recorded on the spot, may nevertheless be genuine, because the listeners at the moment may have been too moved to write.
This speech is considered by many historians and speech writers to be one of the finest pieces of oratory in world history.
This monumental speech was the death knell for the Catholic church’s unchallenged rule over the laity. Its absolute and complete control over them, a control which operated on instilling fear through the threat of damnation, was finally broken once and for all. Even today in 2022, if you are a Catholic and disagree with a point of church dogma, such as the supposed Immaculate Conception of Jesus’ mother Mary, you will be declared anathema and excommunicated. The church requires full and total consent and affirmation of all of its doctrines, as well as any future doctrines which may develop! This was too much for C. S. Lewis (famed author and Christian apologist) to tolerate, so he thankfully never swam the Tiber River to Rome! The Catholic church is still a monarchical and rigid institution, but with the freedoms most people now enjoy, they can no longer terrorize Christians legally with the blessing of the state.
The Catholic church teaches a false gospel of works righteousness which is anithetical to the biblical gospel of unmerited grace and justification by faith alone. The church in Rome does teach some correct doctrine, but for every correct doctrine, you may find several that are incorrect. So remaining in the Catholic church presents a huge problem to one who has been truly regenerated.
This is not just an abstract issue for me. Both sides of my family have been Roman Catholics for at least 500 years. Today, my parents, my two sisters and myself are Protestant. But all of my aunts, uncles, and cousins are Roman Catholic. All my grandparents, who sadly passed away, were also staunch Roman Catholics. If you’d like to read my testimony of salvation you can read it here.
This article by Dr. John MacArthur, The Protestant Protest, on the importance of the Reformation and how precious and supremely important it was to recover the Gospel.
The Reformation was a mighty move of God to correct errors that had crept into the the Catholic church. It liberated man from the unholy tyrrany which the Catholic church had so often employed throughout the previous centuries. Even as early as the New Testament era. we saw errors in the Church, by false prophets and false teachers. The Apostle Paul strongly rebuked these people and urged Christians to follow God’s Word.
The Reformation was a Holy Spirit led movement. Thanks to God using the Reformers, and strengthening them for the tasks at hand, man was once again being led by the indwelt Holy Spirit and walking by faith, not by sight.
For over a millennium, the Catholic church kept the precious Word of God out of the hands of the laity. Jerome (Eusebius Hieronymus Sophronius) completed the translation of the Bible into Latin, which became known as the Vulgate Bible, from the Hebrew and Greek sources, in 405 AD. It would stand as the “common” Bible translation and lasted all the way until 1965 when the Second Vatican Council finally allowed Bible translations in the vernacular. If one wanted to read Scripture they had to be educated in Latin and very few laity could afford to educate their children to such a level. The Catholic church could have let the laity have access to the Bibles in their churches, but that didn’t happen. Even after the invention of the printing press, which revolutionized learning, the Catholic church still kept the language of the mass and the Bible in Latin for another 1,100 years!
Thank God we have broken free of the iron grip the Catholic church had on people for so long. It is indeed a blessing to be born in the present age.
I want to end this article by thanking the Lord for saving an absolutely wicked sinful wretch like me. I clearly see how God used humble men to accomplish His will. He molded them like clay, He breathed spiritual life into them, and they dedicated their lives to Christ as both Lord and Savior. Out of their obedience to God, which meant many hardships, even death, was birthed the Protestant Reformation which restored the Gospel to man and started a theological revolution which echoes all the way to our current age. May we be ever self-reforming in our lives as Christ progressively sanctifies us, may our churches be ever reforming and oppose heresy when it’s encountered, may wives and husbands be ever reforming in raising their children for the glory of God. The Reformation didn’t end. It is a continual renewing, a redisciplining, remolding doctrine to be in line with Scripture. It will last until the Second Coming of Christ. Maranatha!
Be happy in Him, O my heart, and in nothing but God.The Valley Of Vision