A History of the Christian Church
Part Seven, by Denis Jenkins
compiled by Denis Jenkins
Title A History of the Christian Church
Theme Luther Treading the fine Line
When Charles V ascended the German throne, the Roman Church tried, through flattery, to persuade Charles to deal harshly with Luther in order to squash the reformation. The Elector of Saxony on the other hand, who helped Charles to the throne, asked that Charles deal fairly with Luther until it had been proven whether his writings had been of God or not. The Elector claimed that Luther should be given safe conduct to appear before devout, pious and impartial judges.
At Worms, a large assembly of Lords, Knights and Ambassadors from foreign countries came to hear Luther present his case. Alexander, the prelate of Rome whom Rome had entrusted with Luther's arrest, was enraged. To institute a case over a matter where the Pope had already sentenced condemnation would be to cast contempt on the sovereign pontiff. The Prelate was afraid that Luther's compelling arguments may cause many to turn away from the Pope's aims. For this reason, the Prelate tried to persuade Charles to cancel the hearing. Charles was persuaded. The Roman Prelate's success made him bold to take a step further. He then commanded all the princes, prelates and other members of the assembly to condemn Luther of sedition, rebellion, impiety and blasphemy. The hatred and passion with which he presented the accusations against Luther caused the majority of the assembly, known as the "Diet", to comment that " He, Alexander is moved more by hatred and vengeance rather than zeal and piety". This caused the majority of the assembly to support Luther's hearing.
The German laws prevented the emperor from over-turning a majority decision. Therefore Charles encouraged Alexander the Roman Prelate to present his case before the princes himself. Being an eloquent speaker, Alexander presented Rome's case in the most favourable light. It seemed as though Rome had won but God was busy moving the minds of men in positions of power to further His cause of the reformation.
Duke George of Saxony, moved by God, stood up in the princely assembly and outlined with compelling exactness the deceptions and abominations of the Roman Church. He pointed out the abuses that he claimed "cry out against Rome"; that is compromising truth and honesty for money. He pointed out how many of the priests were living a life of debauchery and that the clergy would preach untruths from the pulpit in order to extract money from the poor. The fact that Duke George of Saxony was a known enemy of the reformers added weight and power to his words. This led the Diet to form a petition against the excesses of the Roman Church. They asked the emperor to lift from Germany's shoulders the oppression of Rome.
The Diet then sent for Luther to present his position before the assembly. The emperor then granted Luther's safety. Luther was accompanied to the Diet by imperial messengers and three of Luther's closest friends, one being Melanchthan. The emperor never believed Luther would appear before the Diet. To his surprise, Luther arrived, therefore he gave Luther the grant of safety and arranged a hearing.
Luther witnessed before the emperor, princes and noblemen. He stated that he could not retract his position. He reminded them that the truth of the Gospel was worth more than his own life. Luther reminded the entire assembly that the only reason he would retract his position is if it could be shown from the Bible that he was wrong and therefore had erred. The speaker of the Diet seeing that Luther could not be swayed, began to threaten Luther with the power of the state to bring a heretic to order.
Charles V would not allow the church to disregard the safe conduct order as the previous emperor had with Huss. However, Charles rejected Luther's presentation of the scriptural truth but preferred to support Rome despite its excesses and the evil that it had perpetuated even on his own people. Since Luther had so much support among the common people, princes and noblemen, Charles was not prepared to allow any injustice to be done to Luther in case it destabilised the empire.
As a result the Roman church put an order on Luther's life that stated that anyone who protected him would endanger their own life. Rome stated that Luther was the devil himself in the form of a man. This did not stop Princes, noblemen and rulers from inviting Luther into their churches on his way home from the Diet. On the way home Luther's supporters kidnapped him then took him to Wartberg Castle where he continued to work for the cause of the reformation in protection.
The thin line or tightrope that Luther trod was caused by unscrupulous people, motivated by the powers of evil, who took advantage of the destabilisation of the reformation period. It seemed that from among the very friends of the reformation that some of the worst enemies emerged. Fanatics created situations of lawlessness that was not in the interest of God, the Roman Church or the civil authorities. There were fanatics who claimed that all authority was evil and therefore each individual must resist and disregard those in authority. But clearly Luther in understanding the scriptures had to stand up against these people showing them that God says " I put the rulers there and depose them. Only when authorities ask us to disregard God's authority we obey God rather than man", (Various scripture paraphrased). Luther not only had to deal with spreading the truth of God but also had to speak out against those who were claiming to support the work of the reformation but were clearly a counterfeit that had been incited by none other than the work of Satan himself. This truly provides a clear understanding that the reformation was not a power struggle between church denominations but the great controversy between Christ and Satan as Satan worked through people to divert attention away from the revelation of God through his word being delivered by God's servant Luther and other reformers.
Even though Luther had nothing to do with this fanaticism and lawlessness, Luther was often blamed for it by the civil authorities and the Roman church who believed that in bringing about the challenge to the Roman Church and providing an example of disregarding its power through persuading princes and noblemen to act contrary to it's edicts, he, Luther, had led the populace to believe that such powers formerly absolute were now negotiable. Thus in the authorities' view the responsibility of the emerging lawlessness lay at Luther's feet.
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