Taking a Stand …in Worms!

“For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him…”
‭‭II Chronicles‬ ‭16:9‬a (NKJV‬‬‬‬‬)

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Mid-October, husband Claude and I belatedly celebrated our 29th wedding anniversary and my umpteenth birthday, by visiting the historic city of Worms, pronounced “Virms”. It is a location significant to Christians the world over as it is home to the site of the famous 16th century trial of the ignition-point-man of the flames of the Reformation of the Church, Martin Luther.

German landscape

The countryside leading to Worms was vast and wide, broken by clusters of red-roofed houses, and on the tops of the surrounding rolling hills, the ever-present modern windmills. I wondered how different it must have looked in April 1521, when Martin Luther rolled into town. One unexpected sight was the sprawling vineyards visible from the Autobahn (the no speed-limit Highway) as we approached Worms. This region is apparently known for its exceptional Riesling wine. But something tells me Riesling is not what was on Luther’s mind at the time.

For us also, of far greater interest was the astounding significance to Church history of this city, dating way back, even before the Medieval times. My anticipation grew as the red stone walls and towers of the Dom St. Peter and other churches at the heart of Worms rose over the rest of the town’s buildings as we drove in. Maybe I expected to drive into a Medieval-looking town filled with period garbed re-enactors running around. But no; it was your typical German town, with ordinary German folk going about their business. I soon realized this visit would be what I brought to it—how important to me is the history of the institutionalized church, and why should I care to visit a town where one earnest, even if hot-tempered monk, stood up to the massively powerful and corrupt Medieval church and called it to obedience to the Word of God, in truth, tradition, and practice?

The Luther Monument in Worms.

As Claude carefully maneuvered around the small-town area, in our small Volkswagen, searching for parking, I was finally relieved to see some evidence of our pursuit peeking out between the trees, cars, food kiosks, restaurants, and modern European brand stores as we rolled by. Tucking the car at last in an alley and figuring out the parking machine, at last, we took a short walk across a shopping mall terrace with a children’s carousel and finally came upon it: A huge bronze monument—with Luther atop holding a replica of the Scriptures, to which his ‘conscience was held captive’, to the extent of being willing to burn at the stake. Its presence commanded a modest piazza surrounded by modest floral landscaping. The other personages on the monument were of famous German rulers of that Era, including men and women who served by Luther’s side or provided for his safe conduct and sequester. I was glad to see that we were not the only ones there gleefully walking around it with mouth open and taking pictures, as I jotted down names and dates in my notebook for further research.

Dom St. Peter Cathedral

But the most hallowed spot for me was not this, but a somewhat nondescript square behind the cathedrals of St. Martin and Dom St. Peter, almost hidden in a garden back there, which we discovered after lunch. Here stood a few small monuments —one, a larger-than-life-sized, bronze reproduction of a pair of Luther’s shoes which provide a ‘photo-op spot’ to literally ‘stand in Luther’s shoes’; the other, a bronze plaque, symbolizing the moment that sparked the ‘Schism’, in the form of a stylized lightning bolt separating church buildings of that period; and finally, a little way off a sign, looking almost like a stainless steel bus stop, displayed Luther’s words in German.

The spot at the location where Luther made his famous declaration.

The concrete pad marks the spot where the building once stood, in which the Diet of Worms convened periodically to discuss the ecclesiastical and political matters of the region (which were one and the same in those days!). That day in 1521, the matter of an upstart monk was on the docket and would be heard by the Emperor himself along with other church officials and princes of Germany. Before a table laden with his writings, Luther was told to renounce them and revoke his positions. When he realized that he was not going to be given a chance to discuss and defend the Biblical nature of his work, nor spark the intellectual, scholarly debate he had hoped for, he requested a day’s break to consider his final answer. The following day, after a night in prayer, he delivered his epoch shifting statement.

The famous part at the end of his speech:

Luther’s final words before the Diet of Worms.

“Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Holy Scriptures or by evident reason-for I can believe neither pope nor councils alone, as it is clear that they have erred repeatedly and contradicted themselves-I consider myself convicted by the testimony of Holy Scripture, which is my basis; my conscience is captive to the Word of God. Thus I cannot and will not recant, because acting against one’s conscience is neither safe nor sound. [Here I stand; I can do no other.]  God help me. Amen.”

Two marquis in the park, bear the words bravely spoken on that occasion, which were almost as momentous as when the veil in Jerusalem’s temple was supernaturally torn, top to bottom, as Jesus died. They launched the Great Schism, dividing Roman Catholic and Protestant, but more importantly, made the common believer aware that the way to God outlined in Scripture, is by grace alone, through faith (in Christ) alone—‘Solus Christus, Sola Scriptura, Sola Gratia, Sola Fide’. It re-affirmed the priesthood of the believer, and ultimately would provide the common man the Scriptures, in the common language.

I made myself stop and consider, before ‘standing in Martin Luther’s shoes’ that day: he asked for a day to consider his choice. October 31 is observed as Reformation Day. In a world of fractious and cheap, ‘easy opinionism’, where the ‘baby’ of Truth is being thrown out with the ‘bathwater’ of today’s corrupt institutionalism and the personal failure of leaders, it is well worth pausing and considering our posture, as Luther did:
– What are my life-and-death non-negotiables?
– On what am I basing my convictions?
– As a Christian, am I a student of the Holy Scriptures, and do they govern my worldview and command my allegiance to its Giver, and my loving obedience to Him?
– What place of loyalty do the religious institutions of my life hold and on what basis?

Popular American culture loves the maverick—the lone guy (or gal) who breaks away and sticks it to the establishment. Record of Luther’s life and the course it took after these events strongly suggest that he was as reluctant and surprised a leader of the Reformation as anyone could be. The confluence of social, political, and religious issues, at the center of which he found himself, was beyond one man’s or even one institution’s control. It flows consistent with how God has operated throughout history to express his displeasure with the direction of those claiming to be His representatives in the earth, through one person whose heart synced with His in his time,

“For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him…”
‭‭II Chronicles‬ ‭16:9‬a (NKJV‬‬‬‬‬)

I think God found such men in Martin Luther, and other of his predecessors such as Huss, Tyndale, and Wycliffe, each in their nation and time, though neither of these were by any means perfect men, there has ever been only one perfect human—the Man Christ Jesus. Their efforts, by divine enablement, helped return to others knowledge of the truth of God’s desire for each man to have the power, right, and freedom to exercise informed choice for the well-being of his eternal soul. As we drove out of the City of Worms with the setting sun in our faces, I felt it had been quite fitting that this, our first ‘tourist’ stop in Germany, should have been this ‘pilgrimage’ to Worms, and a confirmation of the need for Christians everywhere to celebrate Reformation Day!

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Tschuss…

Oh, and don’t neglect to eat, in celebration of Reformation Day! In Worms we had Pho and duck for lunch, in a Vietnamese restaurant, green tea, and coffee from a small tea shop, with complimentary cookies, snacked on warm toasted almonds encrusted in sugar and coconut; and took home brats, brot and zweibeln (sausages, bread, and sautéed onions!) for supper!

Savor the Wonder of the Reformation, this its 503rd anniversary!

[Another way to celebrate and be further educated about Luther and the Protestant Reformation is to watch the documentary ‘Luther’, produced by Ligonier ministries with a free accompanying Bible Study on the topic! Youtube]