By Paul Koch –
Hanging on the wall of my study is a framed image (like the one above) of Luther standing before the Imperial Diet at Worms. Across from him is the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, and on a table next to him are many of his works. He had been summoned there to recant of the things that he had written and turn from his heresy. Every Lutheran pastor knows the story well, the story of his defiance in the face of power and influence, the story of his unshakable resolve to make a stand. It is a story we know well for it is our inspiration when times are tough, when the deck seems stacked against our preaching and teaching of the Word of God. It is good for us to remember how Luther stood tall that day, to recall that he said:
Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason (I do not accept the authority of popes and councils because 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. Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God. Amen.”
Here I stand; I can do no other!
In a world longing for something sure to stand upon, a world that has been encouraged to see every point as equally valid and perhaps even equally true, there is a deep need for something sure to stand upon. What our world is missing and what we desire is something outside of ourselves upon which we can build with confidence. Something that is not simply subjected to our every whim and passing fancy, a firm rock instead of the squishy jello of human passion. And that thing upon which we stand today is no different than what Luther stood upon all those years ago: the Word of God.
It is because we still stand upon the Word that we still find comfort in gathering together. We continue to have conferences, hear papers, listen to sermons, read books, participate in Bible studies, and sing hymns new and old. If it is the Word upon which we stand, then our work, our discussions, our preaching and teaching is never a finished product, for we never get the final say. Rather, we always live under the reforming and powerful Word of God.
One of the great joys of standing upon this Word is that it fills our lives with purpose and excitement and wonder as we continue to be engaged by that Word over and over again. Being always shaped and molded by it we will never exhaust the blessings that the living Word bestows. And so, we may not go to Imperial Diets or print formal invitations to debate or hammer our ideas into the doors of churches, but we are not silent either.
No, today we have blog articles, podcasts, radio shows, and the like. We create custom and inspiring videos on YouTube and have a personal printing press in the workroom of the humblest of churches. And with such expressions will come challenges, frustrations, and even fears. Along with the inherent freedom of this work there is a lack of oversight and control with such things. So, there will be abuses, mistakes, charges of heresy, personal attacks, and more.
But if we continue to stand upon the Word, if we continue to learn what it is to surrender our opinions to the clear testimony of Scripture, we will be better for it.
In fact, what else can we possible do? Any other option would be to make our stand upon something else. Something weaker and unsure. Be it church bureaucracy, political positioning, human councils, or popes, they will never stand the test of time and become tools to move us away from our true source of hope and confidence.
Rather, we make our stand and declare with Luther, “Here we still stand!” not because we are distinctively Lutheran, or especially Reformed, or any other thing, but because in the end, we stand upon the same source and norm of all faith and life: the Word of God.