Western culture has engraved in its mind this glaring image of a ride-or-die, angry and confrontational Martin Luther robustly nailing his 95 Theses to the doors of Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, 500 years ago. In reality, the image is fictitious; what actually happened isn’t material for an action-adventure movie, but it makes a statement more dramatic than any contenders for the 2018 Oscars can begin to touch.
For the sake of time and space here, we’ll leave the in-depth details to reliable Luther biographers like Eric Metaxas – and I highly recommend a reading of the book quoted below – but the gist of what happened is this. Luther posted his Theses as an invitation to fellow scholars to debate his points with him. The Theses weren’t even written in the German language spoken or read by most of the town’s residents; they were instead posted in the less familiar and more academic language of Latin used by the Catholic Church and theologians of Luther’s day.
The account has a bit of an anti-climactic flavor in comparison to the image above. Or does it?
When we realize the attitude of humility and servantship that Luther took on in conducting this act that arguably set the Reformation of the Church into motion, we see the power of God – as well as His glory – at their brightest. As Metaxas describes below, one simple act of our dedication to His call – from Luther, from you, from me – is something He can use to set the world on its ear.
To be sure, in doing what he did, Luther hoped to effect change and be thanked by the powers that were. Most of all, he wanted to be recognized by God for doing what any responsible teacher of God’s truth would have done. Indeed, in the years to come, Luther often said that he was a “doctor” who was “sworn” to tell the truth, so there was no other course for him. He felt that he was doing something good, something that the pope and others would surely recognize as such. They were not his adversaries – not yet – and he was a faithful monk in the only church in Western Christendom. And he could not himself conceive of things snowballing as they would soon do. So … on the day he posted his theses, he had no idea what dark forces he would rouse from their slumbers.