The Day After the Nailing of 95 Theses
October 31, 1517… The Augustinian Monk, Martin Luther, strides through the streets of Wittenberg, Germany, and tacks his 95 Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences to the door of All Saints Church.
November 1, 1517… Luther sends numerous copies of his 95 Theses to publishers throughout Europe, his agent connects with the most notable Christian conference hosts of the 16th century to get the professor on the speaking circuit, a marketing guru is hired to bolster Luther’s fame on social media (perhaps even – with the money saved on indulgences – “likes” are purchased for his ministry Facebook page) and with Wittenberg beer in hand, the soon-to-be prestigious Reformer reclines in the pub awaiting the blossoming of his fame for, of course, “the glory of God.”
Ok…so please excuse my Luther-esque moment or satirical snark. Obviously Luther did none of the aforementioned actions. In fact, just the opposite is true. The monk was not seeking personal fame in the least when he posted his document on the church door (if in fact he published them on the church door). The declarations of the original 95 Theses were not in the common German language of his day, but rather in Latin, the scholastic language of the intellects. His intention was to receive an answer from an archbishop to whom the theses were directed, and to engage in scholarly discussion with the other Wittenberg profs. Simply stated – Luther was not seeking personal fame on October 31st; he was seeking Gospel accuracy.
Little is known – that I can find – on what Luther actually did the day after posting the 95 Theses. But from reading extensively on his life, my research would lead me to believe that he returned to his chamber (and lavatory – it’s recorded in history that he actually did some of his best theological study on the can) and continued immersing himself in the Scriptural texts to receive answers to his haunting questions concerning soul justification, personal holiness, and ultimate authority. He continued to read, continued to write, continued to pray, and continued to preach. In other words, he returned to the grind of faithfulness.
I encounter a great many pastors and would-be ministers in my day. Many of them are seeking relevance and desire to make a significant impact on their churches, cities, and the world for Christ. Leaving a legacy – if it is for Jesus’ fame and not your own – is not a bad thing at all. Making an impact – so that God may be worshiped and glorified – is, in fact, a very righteous ambition. And what we learn from the German Reformer is that if we are to leave a Gospel legacy, make a culture-shaking impact, and see souls in droves transformed, then we must not seek our own fame or recognition. Instead, we must necessarily seek out, cling to, and passionately proclaim Gospel truths in full accuracy so that He may be known and adored. We must, like Luther, not slink back in the face of cultural shaming and relativistic bullying. We must, like Luther, say every day “my conscience is held captive to the Word of God.” Like Luther, we must remain faithful.
Martin Luther’s legacy is wrapped up in a pen and hammer in Wittenberg and a declaration in Worms; but his impact echoes from generation to generation because of what he did following these iconic events – he remained faithful to the unadulterated Gospel of Jesus as revealed through an uncompromised unpacking of sacred Word. May we make a Gospel-impact and leave a Gospel-legacy in our day by doing the same.