From the Pastor's Desk
"How About a Diet of Worms?"
"So they stirred up the people and the elders and the teachers of the law. They seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin" Acts 6:12
What do you mean a Diet of Worms doesn’t sound appetizing? No, I am not advocating a new fad diet! Actually, this year marks the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s famous posting of his 95 theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. So what does an event that happened in Germany 500 years ago have to do with us today? I’m glad you asked that question!
Prior to that moment, the Catholic Church was the only church to which people could belong. Martin Luther was a Catholic monk and was widely respected. However, he began to take a serious look at some of the practices of the church. The church sold “indulgences”. Basically, it meant that if one was not sure of the eternal home of a loved one who died, they could buy an indulgence (which funded the continual wars and building projects led by the pope himself) which would assure that their loved one went to heaven. Luther also questioned the idea of purgatory — a sort of waiting room or holding place for those who died while they waited to go to either heaven or hell. If someone bought an indulgence for them, they would be heaven bound. Luther could not find either of these concepts mentioned anywhere in scripture. In fact, Luther found 95 questionable practices of the church which he posted in protest on that church door.
Of course, once the 95 theses were posted, there was a great cheer from the people who had also been questioning some of those practices but who were too frightened to say anything against them, and a great outcry came from the Catholic church condemning Luther. Eventually he was ordered to the Diet of Worms, or assembly in Worms, Germany, to be questioned about what he had said. He refused to refute any of his theses and was excommunicated by the church. He would have been sentenced to death for heresy if it wasn’t for a high-ranking friend who protected him. He ended up in hiding for nine months. His actions began the Protestant Reformation and because of his actions, the Protestant church denominations began to grow, including, later on, the Methodist Church.
The Protestant Churches of today owe much to Martin Luther and his boldness in proclaiming Jesus Christ and the truth of scripture. That boldness was seen in the first Christian martyr, Stephen, as he proclaimed Jesus Christ even to the Sanhedrin. Like Luther, Stephen was seen as a heretic and sentenced to death. It is said that in the 20th century there were more Christian martyrs than in all of the previous combined. We find it hard to believe that people are still being killed for belief in and proclamation of Jesus Christ, yet it continues to happen in many parts of the world. Long-time United Methodist missionary Dan Terry was killed by the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2010 along with nine other Christian aid workers.
As we look at the world and even at the state of the church, it seems it is time for another reformation and another Diet of Worms! Luther was bold enough to go against the established teachings of a church that had begun to lean away from the teachings of scripture and replace them with human teachings. The same thing had happened in the Jewish faith by the time of the New Testament. Jesus condemned the religious leaders for creating additional laws for their own benefit beyond what God had already established. It seems as though laws are being passed in our country today to benefit everybody except Christians. In addition, too many mainline churches are leaning away from the teachings in scripture in order to appeal to the masses rather than stand their ground for Biblical values. Stephen stood up for the Lord; Luther stood up for the teachings of scripture; it is time for us to stand up as Christians for Biblical values and truth.