On October 31, 1517, a fiery, fearless, tempestuous, monkish man by the name of Martin Luther decided to issue 95 theses in addressing the corruptions he saw within his mother Holy Roman Catholic Church. He despised the selling of indulgences. And he hated the manipulation of the Catholic doctrine of purgatory for the robbing of the poor. He was ready to debate, caring not that his words infuriated others. In every way, St. Peter’s Basilica became the greatest monument to the Protestant Reformation.
As a college student, I can’t recall the number of times that I watched the classic Louis De Rochemont production of the black and white film, Martin Luther. I enjoyed listening to the accomplished Shakespearean and church historian professor, Dr. Edward Panosian, act out in first person the life of the boisterous reformer.
So after seminary days, I decided to take my wife to Germany and hunt down this historical figure.
I will never forget Worms. In the garden of the modern Heylshof House of Art, I personally located all the German plaques that marked the events of that notorious day where Martin Luther stood before Kaiser Karl V. In a blow by blow account on that sunny day in Germany, I reconstructed the explosive events that shook the world.
From there, I examined every detail in the Luther Room, reconstructed in 1983 on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of Luther’s birth. And after strolling through the big Catholic Romanesque Church and the Holy Trinity Church (built in honor of Luther), we finally headed to the centralized Luther Monument containing the bronze-cast figures of Friedrich der Weise, Philip the Magnanimous, Johann Reuchlin, Philip Melancthon, Augsburg with the palm of peace, Protesting Speyer, Magdeburg in mourning, Dr. Martin Luther, Petrus Waldus, John Wyclif (Wiclef), John Hus, and the Italian Girolamo (Hieronymus) Savonarola.
To see Martin Luther, towering high in the center of the monument, wearing preacher’s garb, and holding a Bible, is an impressive sight. He is staring at the Bishop’s palace, which once stood overshadowed by the cathedral.
The upper block underneath Luther’s sculpture provides these famous four statements by Luther alongside the portraits of contemporaries (John of Saxony, John Frederick, Justus Jonas, John Bugenhagen, Ulrich von Hutten, Franz von Sikkingen, John Calvin, and Ulrich Zwingli):
“Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen.”
“Faith is nothing other than the true and real life in God himself. – To really understand the Scriptures one needs the spirit of Christ.”
“The Holy Gospel, given us by the Lord through the mouths of the apostles, is his sword and with it he will strike in the world as though with thunder and lightning.”
“Christianity in its true sense will not be held captive by any human law. – They are free, not according to the flesh, but according to their conscience.”
There are some ideas by Luther, wherein I stand in opposition to him. To carelessly affront the Jewish race is sad. I relished walking quietly through the oldest Jewish cemetery in Europe, the “Holy Sands”, next to the Luther Room. My wife thinks Martin Luther to be ugly in appearance. Well, I would say that some of the things he said were bestial and ugly.
But Martin Luther courageously stood for the soteriological doctrine of justification by grace alone and defended with all his heart biblical authority. Thank God he was not blasé on these fundamentals. Bravura happened to be the need of the hour.
I have neither the cultural shaping nor the scholastic training of Luther. My temperament is both shy and blithe compared to Luther’s bombastic personality. Yet as Luther felt burdened at almost age 34 (birthdate, November 10, 1483) to share his convictions to the greater religious populace of his day, at age 37, I earnestly desire to share my 95 Theses to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints dominating my Intermountain West I-15 corridor. Independent apologist, Blake Ostler, even encouraged me in such a wild idea somewhere on one of those threads on New Cool Thang. Thanks. Some time soon, I will be mailing my 95 Theses to both the first Presidency and the Twelve Apostles.
On the heels of a first ever National Student Dialogue Conference sponsored by Standing Together Ministries in Salt Lake City, involving both evangelical and LDS professors and students, I am trying something a little different. Scholars today, like John Morehead of Salt Lake Theological Seminary and others, would encourage evangelicals and LDS in the dance of dialogue. Some conversations I saw in the conference as beneficial; but other things I saw as unhelpful tip-toeing, leading to theological compromise in the name of not hurting any good friend’s “sacred” feelings. (more…)