Reformation Sunday: Will you stand under pressure?

Dear BPCWA worshipper, Today, we commemorate Reformation Sunday. As many of you are aware, the 1517 Reformation was sparked by Martin Luther, a previous Roman Catholic theology professor and monk, when he nailed the 95 Theses (statements) on the door of a church in Wittenberg, Germany. The 95 Theses disputed the errors of the Roman Catholic Church’s teachings and practices regarding salvation, penance, and indulgences. Luther had come to realise that the theology he had learned and was propounding as a Roman Catholic was not what the Bible, God’s Word, taught. Though it was not initially meant to be a protest but to seek clarification and even perhaps not quite expecting the uproar that would follow his action, Luther would spend the rest of his life defending and upholding the doctrines taught in the Bible.

Believing firmly, despite religious pressure. The attacks that Luther faced for his opposition to the Roman Catholic church’s teachings only served to intensify his study of the Scriptures to find the biblical truth. As he searched the Scriptures, it shaped his mind, his theology was soundly solidified, and he developed a clearer understanding of the Bible. The indisputable biblical doctrines of justification by faith through grace inevitably resounded with greater conviction in his heart. Luther wrote several great works, including 3 Reformation treatises included Freedom of a Christian, On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church, and Letter to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation. These writings would cut him off further from the Roman Catholic church.  The inquisition against Luther led to a Papal Bull (an edict issued by the Roman Catholic Pope) condemning his teachings and threatening to excommunicate him from the church in 1520 unless he recanted. This edict was significant because according to the teachings of the Roman Catholic church, excommunication meant that there was no “hope” of salvation for him. Having God’s Truth, Luther was undeterred and he burned the pope’s bull along with the book of church law. This sealed the split between him and the then-prevailing “church”. With this, the Pope excommunicated Luther in 1521. We must not underestimate the burden Luther was under by making such a choice. The church was the mainstream of life as Luther knew it. It was where Luther had spent a large part of his life, where he stayed, where he taught, where he served, where his friends and fellow-associates were, but Luther stood firm against these pressures.

Standing unmovably, despite threat to life and political pressure. With Luther’s unwillingness to recant and the spread of his teachings, it was not only the church that was concerned about Luther. His popularity was a threat to the prevailing political power of the Holy Roman Empire, the stronghold of the Roman Catholic church. Exactly 500 years ago, in 1521, Luther was promised safe travel to an imperial Diet (a formal political assembly, called to discuss and resolve issues facing the Roman Empire) by the newly elected emperor, Charles V. This was held in the German city of Worms. Luther went, not unaware that about a hundred years earlier, another reformer who had also been promised safe travel to another Council was taken and burned at the stake. What courage we must learn to have to defend God’s Truth! By God’s protection, Luther arrived safely and was called to the Diet for questioning. At this Diet of Worms, Luther was asked to renounce his errors and his many writings. Luther requested for a day to consider and reappear before the Diet. After long hours of prayer and consultation with men whom he regarded highly, Luther came again before the religious-political assembly. When repeatedly asked if he would recant, Luther respectfully but yet boldly declared that he would not recant, closing with this famous proclamation “If, then, I am not convinced by proof from Holy Scripture, . . . 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.”

Today, we must continue to defend and remain unchangeable. Luther’s conscience, not acting independently but tightly bound to God’s word, held him to his declarations, regardless of the consequences he would face. Whether or not the italicised phrase “Here I stand…” was uttered by Luther is irrelevant. The phrase embodied what Luther valiantly stood for, because of his belief in the Scriptures alone as his sole authority for faith and living. Luther took up the cross of Christ for his stance. Because he refused to recant, he was declared an outlaw, which meant that he could be killed by anyone without the threat of punishment. Despite this threat hanging over him for the rest of his life, Luther did not bow to the pressure but stood unwaveringly firm despite all attempts to sift him as wheat (Lu 22:31).

As we remember Reformation Sunday once again this year and recount the life of Martin Luther, let us remember that it is not just an interesting and even stirring story of a noble life. We see how those who have gone before us have risked their very lives and stood up to many trials for the Holy Faith according to Scriptures. They served their generation. Because of that, we too can still have and hold on to God’s Truth today. It is for us to learn to stand despite the pressures that Satan, the roaring lion, will seek to put on us. We are not just called to be recipients of this faith, but we are also called to be defenders of the faith. In our time, in our lifetime, this is what we must do – to “earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 1:3). God raised Martin Luther for the work He had for him. God is also now moulding you and I for the work He has for each of us. When the test comes, let us stand for Him. We are surrounded by a cloud of people that have gone before us, the Reformers, who lived a true and faithful witnesses (Heb 12:1). Brethren, let us be the remnant that will hold the fort while we await the soon return of our King!

Fierce and long the battle rages, but our help is near,

Onward comes our great Commander, cheer, my comrades, cheer!

“Hold the fort, for I am coming,” Jesus signals still;

Wave the answer back to heaven, “By Thy grace we will.”

Yours in our Lord’s service,