“Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise. God help me!”
By refusing to recant his teachings at the Diet of Worms, Martin Luther was defying the wishes of the most powerful men in Europe. After Luther left Worms, the council condemned him as a heretic, and ordered that he, and any of his followers, should be captured or killed on sight.
On the road back to Wittenberg, Luther was very vulnerable. In fact, as he was going through a dense forest, a band of soldiers kidnaped him. How awful! Actually, the kidnappers were his friends who took him into hiding at Wartburg castle in order to protect him. Martin Luther did not waste the ten months that he spent at Wartburg. While there, he studied the Bible, and even translated the New Testament into German.
As Luther was in hiding, things back at Wittenberg were not going so well. The churches there were in turmoil, and some church leaders were taking their reforms much too far. The people wanted Luther to come out of hiding and restore order. Luther accepted their appeals for help. Even though his life was in danger, he came out of hiding and returned to Wittenberg. Luther’s return stabilized the situation, and many religious troublemakers left Wittenberg for towns and cities outside his influence. In Wittenberg, Luther continued to preach and teach at the castle church, and although it took him twelve years, he translated the Old Testament into German, and published the first complete German Bible. Also during his ministry at Wittenberg, Luther wrote the Small Catechism and the Large Catechism, which were meant to teach theology to families and pastors, respectively.
The Emperor was not done with the Lutherans yet! In 1530, he called another council in the German city of Augsburg. The Diet of Augsburg induced Philip Melanchthon, a great friend of Luther, to write the Augsburg confession, which summarized what the Lutherans believed and did not believe. It was such a powerful document, that upon it’s public reading at the Diet, some staunch Catholics began to question the rightness of their position! Even today, a church must subscribe to this Augsburg Confession to be considered Lutheran.
Martin Luther’s reformation had far-reaching effects. Indeed, the reformation changed the world. Some changes were not what Luther wanted or intended. The church was now irreparably split into many denominations. Luther had wanted the church to remain united under the truth of God’s word. Also, with the church’s authority severely diminished, the common people began to rebel against other earthly authorities, causing much war and bloodshed which Luther was unable to stop.
The Reformation greatly affected European, and ultimately American, politics. It removed Germany from the overarching influences of the Pope and the Holy Roman Empire, thus laying the foundation for the nation-based political systems of the modern era. Furthermore, almost all of our American founding fathers in the Constitutional Convention were from protestant church bodies, and two of them were Lutherans!
In the culture, the reformation standardized the German language, encouraged education for all, and gave dignity to all kinds of labor, saying that all righteous work could be pleasing to God. Many religious services were traditionally held in Latin. After the reformation, the services were held in the native language of the people, and the people were encouraged to sing in church. The use of instrumentation in the services also increased, and the door was opened for the great German composers and musicians like Bach, Handel, and eventually Beethoven (well, he was more of an Austrian).
Before the reformation, scientific research was rigorously censored by the church. The church had a rigid stance on many scientific issues especially in the field of astronomy. This made new scientific research very difficult. After the reformation, however, science in Protestant countries enjoyed new freedom. The first public schools after the contemporary paradigm were opened during this time as well, and the way was paved for the modern scientific age we now live in. Interestingly, it could maybe be said that there would have been no Darwin if there had been no Luther!`
Theologically, the Reformation exposed the anti-scriptural teachings and practices that had crept into the Church. Lutheran theology returned to the Biblical doctrine of forgiveness as a free gift, given by God, through Christ. Luther also taught that Scripture should be the sole foundation, and ultimate authority for all doctrine, belief, and teaching. Luther was especially careful to point to Jesus Christ as the central focus, and head, of the church.
Indeed, in many ways the reformation changed the world. It changed the church. It changed the political, cultural, and scientific landscapes. It changed music, worship, and theology. The reformation changed many things, but none of it would have mattered if it hadn’t brought the church back to the truth of God’s Word.