Remembering the Reformation
One of my favorite leaders of the 16th century Protestant Reformation is Martin Luther. In 1521 the young monk and theologian named Martin Luther stood before a church council in Germany. Luther had written a series of books and articles in which he expressed concern over the corruption of the Roman Church.
It seems that Luther was specifically concerned over the issue of salvation. Luther had taken aim with the church’s practice of selling indulgences. An indulgence is the removal of temporal punishment due to sin. For a certain amount of money, one could purchase an indulgence. For the exchange of a donation one would receive grace. Under church authority a promise was made that the indulgence would move a deceased relative closer toward heaven. The underlying issue was an important one. Luther recognized that this practice made a mockery of God’s grace. Was a person saved by grace alone or by a combination of grace and human merit? Luther proclaimed that clearly the scriptures teach that salvation is a gift of grace. In addition Luther disapproved of man’s traditions and proclaimed that the Bible is the source of revelation. He stated “A simple layman armed with Scripture is to be believed above a pope or council without it.”
The council ordered that Luther recant his books and articles. Luther’s response was compelling, “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. God help me. Amen.” His conscience was not swayed by any source other than God’s Word.
In 1567 Pope Pius V abolished the the sale of indulgences nevertheless Luther’s response still rings true today. His courage and the model of his devotion to Christ requires each of us to consider his words. Is your conscience captive to the Word of God? The tendency to drift away from the gospel is real. Too often we are swayed by pop culture and media opinion. Our consciences can be misinformed and lead us away from the truth. Paul issues this warning in 1 Timothy 4:1-2 “But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron…”
I am thankful for Luther because he serves as a reminder that our lives should be lived in obedience to the Word of God. Nothing else should dictate truth. It is important to understand that friends, emotions and culture can compete for our loyalty. However it is essential that our conscience must be held captive to the Word of God. To defy that position is dangerous.
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