Martin Luther and Me Applying Reformation Principles By Michael Sokupa, Associate Director of the Ellen G. White Estate at the General Conference In looking at the Reformation and the lives of the Reformers, we emphasize the biblical and theological elements, and often fall short of applying the principles of Reformation to our lives. I see in Martin Luther’s experience much that is in common with my own spiritual heritage. Like him I have had to fight fear and tradition as God led us, by Scripture, into the meaning of true freedom. Luther’s life experience casts light on mine.
Luther’s Early Journey
In the early 1500s Luther started on his path toward a law career by enrolling at the university in Erfurt.1 In 1505, while returning to university from home, Luther was caught in a thunderstorm. A bolt of lightning led him to cry out in desperation, “Help me, St. Anne, and I’ll become a monk!”2 Luther kept his vow and entered a monastery within a month. At the age of 27 Luther traveled to Rome to represent the Augustinian monastery at Erfurt. As he dutifully went through the motions, doubts began to fill his critical mind. He began to question the church’s teachings about relics and merits. He returned to the monastery more troubled than before. His supervisor, Johann von Staupitz, both encouraged him and reprimanded him for his attitude. Staupitz encouraged Luther to focus on the love of God and stop worrying. Luther had built up a negative attitude toward God that drove him to fear and hate God. Luther recalled his true feelings when he received the encouragement from Staupitz: “Love God? I hate Him!” In 1513, while preparing for a series of lectures, Luther read Psalm 22:1: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” This verse brought Luther to a turning point in his life. Applying it appropriately to Christ, he realized that even Jesus had feelings of separation that Luther sometimes felt. This gave Luther some comfort. Martin Luther grew up in a Roman Catholic home, shaped by both Scripture and tradition. Two years later, as he was preparing for lectures on the book of Romans, Luther read Romans 1:17: “The just shall live by faith” (KJV).3 This text became pivotal for his spiritual journey. Its discovery gave Luther an assurance that his salvation did not depend on merits, that he did not need to fear God. He embraced the idea that only by faith are we made righteous.
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Luther Breaks out
On October 31, 1517, Luther wrote 95 statements against the practice of selling indulgences and nailed them to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, a conventional way of inviting an academic debate on a topic. This coincided with the rapid deployment of Gutenberg’s movable printing press. Luther’s theses were printed, and copies were distributed throughout Saxony. Even the pope got a copy. The pope’s reaction to Luther’s statements set in motion an inquiry. Luther feared for his life, for many Reformers had lost their lives when they were charged as heretics.4 In October 1518 a group of princes and nobles (known as the Imperial Diet) met in Augsburg to discuss several agenda items including the Turks and Luther. Luther attended the meeting. The papal representative, Cardinal Cajetan, was not interested in engaging Luther in debate. His main aim was to persuade Luther to recant.5 A century earlier Jan Hus had been burned at the stake for refusing to recant. He had demanded to be shown from the Scriptures what his errors were. Luther took the same position, knowing the history and the consequences that might follow. Luther narrowly escaped because of his connection to Frederick the Wise, whom the pope did not want to displease.6 Luther continued writing. He produced treatises entitled Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation, On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church, and Freedom of a Christian. This fueled the pope’s fury, and in 1520 Luther received an ultimatum (in a document called a papal bull) from the Pope to recant his position within 60 days or be excommunicated from the church. Luther publicly burned the papal bull. He was excommunicated on January 3, 1521. Luther was summoned to the Imperial Diet of Worms under Emperor Charles V on January 22, 1521. Given an opportunity to renounce or affirm his position, he responded: “Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason, I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other. My conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe.”7 He is said to have spoken the following words that continue to ring in traditional circles: “Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.”8
Published on Jan 1, 2018
Published on Jan 1, 2018
The January-February 2018 issue of the Southwestern Union Record, the official publication of the Southwestern Union Conference of Seventh-d...