Luther and His 95 Theses

martin_lutherToday (May 25, 2009) is the anniversary of the Edict of Worms that declared Martin Luther a heretic. Since I’ve been posting my own 95 Theses I thought a word should be said about Martin and his work.

“Emperor Charles V opened the imperial Diet of Worms on January 22, 1521. Luther was summoned to renounce or reaffirm his views. When he appeared before the assembly on April 16, Johann Eck, an assistant of the Archbishop of Trier , acted as spokesman for the emperor. He presented Luther with a table filled with copies of his writings. Eck asked Luther if the books were his and if he still believed what these works taught. Luther requested time to consider his answer. It was granted.

Luther prayed, consulted with friends and mediators and presented himself before the Diet the next day. When the counselor put the same questions to Luther, he said: “They are all mine, but as for the second question, they are not all of one sort.” Luther went on to categorize the writings into three categories:

The first category was of works about the bible and scriptures which were well received by everyone even his enemies. These he would not reject.

The second category of his books attacked the abuses, lies and desolation of the Christian world. These, Luther believed, could not safely be rejected without encouraging abuses to continue.

The third and final group contained attacks on individuals. He apologized for the harsh tone of these writings, but did not reject the substance of what he taught in them. If he could be shown from the Scriptures that he was in error, Luther continued, he would reject them.

Counsellor Eck, after countering that Luther had no right to teach contrary to the Church through the ages, asked Luther to plainly answer the question: “Would Luther reject his books and the errors they contain?”

Luther replied: “Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason —I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other— my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe.”
(from )

We tend, or at least I do, to drift back to the old ways, the ruts, the well worn paths of our lives and the lives before us. Following Jesus is about revolution. The hard part is that it’s not a one time revolution but a daily revolution. I thought that the hard work of following Jesus was about behaving myself and being a good moral guy. Now I realize that the greatest temptation I face isn’t to do bad, it’s to do nothing. The revolution isn’t about what I’m against, it’s supposed to be about what I’m for. However, sometimes, like Luther, a voice has to be heard that is willing to be misunderstood but also willing to oppose a system that makes slaves of the men that Christ came to set free.

In the 1976 movie NETWORK, Paddy Chayefsky, who understood a thing or two about revolution, put these words into the mouth of TV Network executive Howard Beale (unforgettably performed by Peter Finch).

Howard Beale: I don’t have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad. It’s a depression. Everybody’s out of work or scared of losing their job. The dollar buys a nickel’s work, banks are going bust, shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter. Punks are running wild in the street and there’s nobody anywhere who seems to know what to do, and there’s no end to it. We know the air is unfit to breathe and our food is unfit to eat, and we sit watching our TV’s while some local newscaster tells us that today we had fifteen homicides and sixty-three violent crimes, as if that’s the way it’s supposed to be. We know things are bad – worse than bad. They’re crazy. It’s like everything everywhere is going crazy, so we don’t go out anymore. We sit in the house, and slowly the world we are living in is getting smaller, and all we say is, ‘Please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms. Let me have my toaster and my TV and my steel-belted radials and I won’t say anything. Just leave us alone.’ Well, I’m not gonna leave you alone. I want you to get mad! I don’t want you to protest. I don’t want you to riot – I don’t want you to write to your congressman because I wouldn’t know what to tell you to write. I don’t know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crime in the street. All I know is that first you’ve got to get mad.
Howard Beale: [shouting] You’ve got to say, ‘I’m a HUMAN BEING, Goddamnit! My life has VALUE!’ So I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell,
Howard Beale: ‘I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!’ I want you to get up right now, sit up, go to your windows, open them and stick your head out and yell – ‘I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!’ Things have got to change. But first, you’ve gotta get mad!… You’ve got to say, ‘I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!’ Then we’ll figure out what to do about the depression and the inflation and the oil crisis. But first get up out of your chairs, open the window, stick your head out, and yell, and say it:
Howard Beale: [screaming at the top of his lungs] “I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!”

And as Tony Campolo would say, the sad thing is that Christians who read this would likely be more upset at the language than will be moved by the things that are wrong.


About brianmpei

Stumbling towards what comes next.
This entry was posted in Christianity, Church, emerging church, language, Rant, religion and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Luther and His 95 Theses

  1. Paulo Freire echoed Beale’s diatribe in Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Change only happens when the oppressed stand up for their own dignity as human beings.

    Great post.

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