Luther: Consciousness and Taking a Stand (Kevin DeYoung)
When Martin Luther arrived in the town of Worms in 1521, he was not filled with confidence.
Luther had long protested against the corruption of the Roman Catholic Church - the most famous example of this happened in 1517, when he plastered his 95 theses on the door of the castle church in Wittenberg. Later, in January 1521, after years of controversy, Pope Leo X excommunicated the German reformer. In April of the same year, Luther was summoned to appear before the Imperial Diet (assembly) of Worms to defend his controversial beliefs before Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor. Luther is easily imagined as a larger-than-life character, brash and self-confident; Yet he comes to Worms so intimidated, that on the first day of his defense, his statements are barely audible. The Catholic authorities are threatening to banish him from the empire of Charles V, a vast territory with Germany as its center and covering central Europe. Luther's teaching career, his livelihood as well as his very life are at stake.
Luther knows full well what the authorities expect of him: to retract his criticisms of the teaching and practices of the Catholic Church. Although fearful at the beginning of his interrogation, Luther regains courage. He thus declares: “My conscience is captive of the Word of God; I cannot and will not repent, for it would neither be prudent nor beneficial to act against my own conscience. I cannot do otherwise. Here I am. May God help me. Amen. "
The emperor made his decision on May 26, 1521: Luther would be "banned" and "double banned". This edict of Worms conjures the men and women of the empire:
[…] not to welcome the aforementioned Martin Luther into your house, not to receive him at court, not to give him food or drink, not to hide him, not to offer him any help, any listening, no support, no encouragement, either clandestinely or publicly, through words or works. If it is possible for you to take it, grab it and dominate it, capture it and send it to us in close custody.
Luther is now a man on the run. The authorities in place are adamant that Luther and his writings, as well as anyone sympathetic to his ideas, must be silenced. And yet Luther is prepared to endure it all - expulsion, danger, maybe even death - for the sake of conscience. Very concretely, we could affirm that the history of the Reformation, the history of Europe, and the history of the whole world have been altered, by the providence of God, because a man refused to violate his conscience. .
Glory to God that Luther took his conscience seriously.
I wonder if you and I are just as careful with ours.
- Kevin DeYoung
From the book, The joy of a pure conscience .