Reformation

The Reformation at 500: Luther’s Escape to the Wartburg

Wartburg Castle

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We visited Eisenach and the Wartburg Castle on the Sunday of our 500th anniversary Reformation trip.

The day was gloriously dark and dreary. Fortunately, we felt only a few raindrops. But it was an absolutely perfect day for a ride through the Thuringian Forest.

A young Martin Luther spent several of his most formative years less than three miles from the Wartburg Castle—in Eisenach, where the Cotta family hosted him as a schoolboy preparing to go to the University of Erfurt. We also traced the history of Johann Sebastian Bach that day, and our enthusiastic tour guide—a California transplant—told us excitedly how Eisenach became the source of Western civilization. He seemed to be familiar with every crack in the sidewalk of that city.

The Wartburg Castle is majestically awkward. Consider this fact: It had already been there for nearly 500 years by Luther’s time! The sprawling castle bears evidence of continuous construction, and one can only wonder how many sacrificed their lives in the process of building and maintaining it. The sights from the grounds around the castle, as well as within it, are too magnificent to describe. One can see the majesty of creation looking down from the castle grounds, and the depth of history that this site generates is almost palpable.

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What Martin Luther’s Stand for the Gospel Means for Us Today

"Luther’s ideas were revolutionary because they were much more than a minor argument against indulgences. Rather, Luther’s opponents sensed what he was doing....Luther was instead claiming the Christian faith first of all hearkens to God’s promise of salvation through Christ, as revealed in his Word." - TGC

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The Reformation at 500: Luther’s Stand at Worms

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One of the most fascinating sights that we saw on our 500th-anniversary Reformation tour was the Luther Monument—sometimes called the Reformation Monument—which is located across the street from the park where Dr. Martin Luther’s famous stand before the Diet of Worms is memorialized.

In fact, this set of bronze sculptures is described as “the world’s largest monument to the Reformation.”1 Here Luther still takes his stand, proudly holding his German Bible at the very center of the monument, enveloped in the words of his famous hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.”2 He stands among his colleagues and others who paved the way for his work of Reformation. Looking at these figures, it is almost as if each one “being dead still speaks” (Heb. 11:4)3.

Beneath his feet—as his foundation, as it were—is this famous quote: “Hier stehe ich, ich kann nicht anders, Gott helfe mir: Amen!”

The drama that brought Luther to Worms on April 16, 1521, began officially on June 15 of the previous year, when Pope Leo X promulgated a papal bull against Luther that was titled Exsurge Domine, based on Ps. 74:22, in which he charged Luther with 41 false teachings.

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The Reformation at 500: Luther’s Journey to Worms

St. Peter's Cathedral in Worms, before 1901

It was a warm, sunny autumn Wednesday afternoon when our bus rolled into Worms, Germany—the second-to-last stop on the final day of touring on our 500th anniversary Reformation trip.

The town was decorated almost as if Luther himself were returning.

At the side of the road, we saw signs that read “Solus Christus,” “Sola Gratia,” “Sola Fide” and “Sola Scriptura”—like the placards that city residents might post to salute a winning sports team.

I wish that we had had more time in Worms, although there is not much left to see with regard to the place where Luther stood 500 years ago this month and—in the face of absolute power combined with demonic evil—declared his fidelity and commitment to the Word of God alone.

The Bishop’s Palace, where Holy Roman Emperor Charles V presided over the Diet of Worms, has been gone for more than 300 years. The spot where Luther is believed to have stood is now part of a sizeable park, and it is commemorated by a large pair of bronze shoes. There is a painting of the palace where Luther faced his accusers, along with some other historical markers.

Luther had preached his way through central Germany over the course of two weeks to get to Worms, and the thronging crowds cheered him exuberantly when he arrived. Humanly speaking, the fact that he had the people on his side was one of the factors that saved him.

His friends had cautioned him against going, fearing that he would be the next Jan Hus. The life stories of Luther and Hus are, in fact, intertwined at several key points.

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Martin Luther’s Death and Legacy

"Just before he died [February 18, 1546], Luther preached what would be his last sermon from his deathbed in Eisleben. The 'sermon' consisted of simply quoting two texts, one from the Psalms and one from the Gospels. Luther cited Psalm 68:19, 'Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears us up; God is our salvation.' Then he cited John 3:16." - Ligonier

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It Should Be Fall

It should be fall.

Oh, I know it may be a little early to say that—in this first week of August—but I have always loved fall, so every year I try to rush ahead. It is my favorite season of the year.

Where I live, in Wisconsin, fall weather generally provides the greatest comfort. Normally by the start of September the sweltering heat has largely subsided, and there is almost never an early season snowstorm.

People should be getting back into the regular routines of life right now. For many, that means that school should be starting again.

From kindergarten through seminary, and adding in my teaching experience, I have been part of 28 fall semesters to date. I started out loving school, then learned to hate it at times, but definitely ended by learning to love it again. As a kid, a new school year meant new school clothes, new notebooks—even a new lunchbox.

When I was in college and seminary, especially, I remember the enthusiasm I had for the new books, and even my excitement at reading through a new syllabus. Going to the first day of a new class in seminary was sort of the adult version of sitting down to open a big Christmas gift.

But fall also means other things to us in our spare time—like football. From high school, through college, and adding in my coaching experience, I have been part of 14 football seasons.

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The Reformation at 500: The Papal Bull (Part 2)

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“Since God has given us the papacy,” Pope Leo X stated dramatically, “let us enjoy it.”

There was one man standing in the way of such enjoyment, however. Leo had little regard for the priest in Wittenberg, Dr. Martin Luther, who he referred to as “a drunken German.”

“He will feel different when he is sober,” concluded the pope.

His ability to underestimate Luther could not have been more profound.

The movement that would become the Reformation had advanced greatly in 1518 and 1519. Luther’s encounters with church officials at the Heidelberg Disputation (in May of 1518), at the meeting at Augsburg (with Cardinal Cajetan in October of 1518) and at the Leipzig Debate (where he contended with Johann Eck in July of 1519) had forced him to evaluate the true source of authority. Ultimately, he would conclude that it had to be Scripture alone—Sola Scriptura, a term that would later be used to characterize the formal principle of the Reformation. His clash with the Holy Mother Church was quickly coming to a head.

But, in the providence of God, a web of complications kept the church, or even the Holy Roman Empire, from dealing as quickly or as forcefully with Luther as some thought necessary.

For one thing, the empire was without an emperor from the death of Maximilian I on Jan. 12, 1519, until the election of his grandson, Charles V, who began to reign on June 28, 1519.

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