Here I stand; I can do no other.
- Martin Luther
Midway between Frankfurt and Heidelberg, Germany, in the smaller city of Worms, stands an impressive memorial to the 16th-century protestant reformer, Martin Luther.
Its been 30 years since I stood on the grassy mound near Luthers famous Here I stand. inscription, but the monument, meshed with the mental image of a courageous priest who defied the religious establishment of his day to follow his conscience, is as vivid as if I had been there yesterday.
By the time Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses (objections) to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg, he had spent 10 years trying to reconcile the customs of the medieval church with the writings of the New Testament, which he felt should be the foundation of all church theology, not just his own.
The just shall live by faith you are saved by the grace and mercy of God, not by your own works, he read, and wondered how to justify those words with the practice of selling indulgences to those who were taught the only way to receive Gods forgiveness was to pay for it themselves.
The church hierarchy frowned on Luthers public display and summoned him to appear before the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, at the Diet of Worms. There, with no one by his side, Luther presented his historic stand, offering to change his position only if he were proven wrong by the Word of God. Since neither side would recant its position, the church excommunicated the uncompromising priest.
Not to be silenced, however, Luther spent the next 30 years writing, preaching to a growing audience of similar minds, and translating the Bible from Latin to German. By the time Luther died, the Protestant Reformation he unwittingly spawned had spread throughout the western world.
Several years ago, two rabbis from neighboring communities took opposing positions on how to teach their young people about the Jewish faith. The first rabbi decided to spare his teenagers from embarrassment among their non-Jewish peers. The Jewish Holy Days are almost here, he said, and, as you know, your parents and I usually fast, at least during Yom Kippur. Now thats a nice thing to do, but we'll let you decide if you want to observe a strict fast, give up a few items, or not to fast at all.
After hearing of his colleagues Holy-Day leniency, the second rabbi asked, How can you be sort of Jewish? Either our children are taught what it means to be Jewish or were failing to give them the foundation on which we live.
Martin Luther and rabbi No. 2 sound out of step with todays politically correct, dont-inflict-your-ideas-on-me society. Those who lean too far to the religious Right today may not be ex-communicated, but they often are ridiculed, kept from public office, and even sued.
The Bible passages that guided a German priest to become strong in his faith were written initially to the first-century Christians. Spiritually, these new converts were the age of the young Jews in the congregations mentioned above, and if they hadnt learned the importance of standing up early for what they believed, they soon would have fallen away from their newfound faith. Had they and the later reformers not stood firm, Christianity might be little more today than a fading memory. Men and women of faith who stand strong build a firm foundation for generations who follow.
The Jonestowns, the Heavens Gates and other self-destructive cults attract the ungrounded who, with nothing solid to hang on to, are vulnerable to any synthetic facsimile that comes along. But, as the Prophet Jeremiah wrote long ago, those who stand at the crossroads and look, who ask where the good way is and walk in it, will find rest for their souls (Jeremiah 6:16).
(Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer. E-mail comments to email@example.com.)
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