This past week, I spent eight days tracing the steps of Martin Luther on a Reformation 500 tour. As I read, studied, and prepared for the tour over the past year, I focused on the big events and important facts of Luther and the Protestant Reformation. As with any trip like this, you always leave with a better understanding of history and the context in which these events unfolded.
One thing that became clear to me over this past week is Luther’s focus on discipleship. We often have the image of the monk at the Castle Church’s door with a large hammer in one hand and his Ninety-Five Theses in another hand. Perhaps you have the image of Luther burning the papal bull outside of Wittenberg in your mind. In some cases, people hear Luther’s name and immediately they see the scene of 1521 as he gives his passionate “Here I Stand” speech before the Diet of Worms. Have you considered the Luther of knowledge and disciple making?
Luther and Family Worship
Sometimes when you visit statues of historic figures, such as Luther, you will see important scenes depicted in art just below the feet of the person who is put on display. On several occasions this week, I noticed a very important scene of Luther playing a guitar with his family gathered around. It was obviously a scene of family worship.
Before Luther helped spark the Reformation, the homes of people were filled with darkness. After Luther labored to give the people the German Bible in their own tongue—suddenly there was light in the homes of those who believed the gospel. The open Bible had replaced the relics and alters to saints that had been given to them by the Roman Catholic Church. Post tenabras lux—after darkness light!
Luther helped shape the way fathers could lead their family to know God. This was the fruit of not just the Reformation in the abstract, but the Reformation that produced the open Bible in the homes of God’s people. Luther was twenty years of age before he saw his first Bible. He wanted to make sure that wasn’t the case for God’s people in the future.
Luther and the Protestant Worship Service
Just a few blocks away from the Castle Church in Wittenberg was St. Mary’s Church—the location of the first protestant worship service. Often called the town church, it was in St. Mary’s Church that the first true protestant worship service was held following the dark ages of the Roman Catholic Church. Not only did the open Bible in the homes lead to a more fruitful discipleship, so did the open Bible in the pulpit.
The era of the raised pulpit at the front of the auditorium symbolized not just a priority of God’s Word, but the elevated position of God’s Word in the worship of the local church. Luther once said, “The pulpit is the throne of the Word of God.” Rather than viewing the confession as the gate to God’s presence, the people now looked to the Word of God opened and proclaimed from a lofty pulpit as the gate of glory.
From the raised pulpits in church buildings, men of God would place the open Bible on the desk and proclaim the gospel to the people in their own tongue. Gone were the days where people were forced to gather in Catholic cathedrals and listen to the priest mumble through the liturgy in Latin. Suddenly disciples were made through the open preaching of God’s Word in the people’s language.
Furthermore, this led to joyful response of God’s people in song. The darkness of the Roman Catholic Church led to a dark worship liturgy. There was no light. The people held onto a thread of hope as they mindlessly followed the liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church. As a result—there was no joy. With the open Bible in the church, now the people were singing and lifting their voices to God in songs of worship and praise. In many ways, our weekly worship service is directly connected to the movement of the historic Reformation.
Luther and the University
In many of the cities that Luther visited, lived, or influenced—universities of higher learning were established. Not only would students learn common education, they would be taught theology as well. Ministers could train for the ministry and prepare to preach the gospel. The ability to know God and to pursue formal education was something that Luther was greatly passionate about. He understood that there was a direct connection between the success of the Reformation and the knowledge of God’s people.
Luther would serve as a professor of theology in Wittenberg and often spent time writing extensively in the world of theology in order to engage the minds of people. When Jesus gave his people the command to “go and make disciples of all nations,” that command is not focused on the “professional” missionary alone. The call to make disciples is the call of God’s church. We are to engage people with truth and to help people gain a better understanding of who God is and what he has done for wretched sinners. The work of discipleship begins in the home, is solidified in the church, and today we have many institutions of higher learning where disciples can be strengthened in their faith and prepare for vocational ministry.
Luther had a commitment to discipleship. What about you?
*To the readers of this blog, thank you for your patience as I’ve been away from home for over two weeks. The Thursday article was forced to post today (Friday) due to no Internet service on the flight home. Next week will resume the regular blogging schedule.