Making the most of our past

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There is great benefit in knowing our past. On an individual level, a man or woman’s past is a well from which innumerable lessons can be drawn. We learn what to do, how to do, what not to do, the reality of consequences, the excitement of success, the bite of failure—the list goes on and on. The same type of lessons, however, can also be drawn from a community’s past. The incredible benefit of considering your community’s past is that the well from which you draw is instantly widened and deepened a hundred fold. That is one of the reason as Christians we should be interested in our community’s past—church history.

This past Sunday I mentioned that October 31 is ‘Reformation Day.’ The day marks Martin Luther’s nailing of the 95 Theses on a door in Wittenberg, Germany in 1517. (you can read the 95 Theses here.) Luther’s 95 Theses was a surge in the already flowing stream of reformation that challenged the Catholic Church’s teaching on forgiveness of sin. The eventual result would be the birth of the protestant (or non-Catholic) church. Every time I read Luther’s works, or a biography on Luther, I am struck by many things. I want to share two of those with you today.

Scripture

Luther had a remarkable passion for Scripture. I think his passion flowed from two places. First, he was without Scripture for a large part of his life. In Luther’s day, the Bible was mainly circulated in Latin; a language only the elite church authority could read. For Luther, and every common citizen, that meant no access to the Scriptures. Second, Luther came to know Christ through the reading of Scripture. For years he had searched for the Gospel. At last, after much meditation and thought on Romans 1:17, God broke through. Luther never lost his passion for Scripture. He preached endlessly, translated the Bible into common German, and encouraged all to read. His take on the Bible, “Let the man who would hear God speak, read Holy Scripture.”[1] I pray that all Christians would have such a longing and passing for Scripture. Read it, memorize it, wrestle with it, and drink from the depths of God’s word. As Luther said, “The Bible is a remarkable fountain: the more one draws and drinks of it, the more it stimulates thirst.”[2]

God can use anyone

Luther was not a polished man. If you had met him in his early life you would not have expected great godly things from him. He was the son of a copper miner, and by age twenty-two he had earned two degrees in the pursuit of a legal profession. On July 2, 1505 all his aspirations changed. He was walking home from law school and got caught in a terrible lightening storm. He yelled out, “Help me, St. Anne; I will become a monk.”[3] God spared his life, and Luther kept his promise. Becoming a monk, however, did not mean becoming a Christian. Luther painstakingly struggled with God’s justice, righteousness, and wrath in Scripture. He incessantly confessed his sins to his priest, desperately looking for forgiveness. Eventually, he found forgiveness in the one place it exists, Christ. Of course, he didn’t become perfect overnight. Luther was brash and overly harsh at times. He found himself apologizing often for his words. He criticized the Catholic Church with cartoons that aren’t exactly acceptable for me to describe in detail here! He was an obvious sinner. And yet, God used him. That is one of the great benefits of reading biographies of the Christian men and women before us. We see that God uses obvious sinners to serve his kingdom. Luther understood this. His last recorded words were, “We are beggars. This is true.”[4]

There is so much more to write on Luther. He taught faith better than anyone I have ever heard or read! He spent all his money loving his brother.  He championed marriage, the union of faith and loving neighbor, the priesthood of every believer, and Christian freedom. My aim here is not to make us little-Luther’s, but to waken an excitement of our family’s past. I pray that in reading this blog you will be encouraged to draw from the deep well that is your Christian history.

(I personally own several short biographies on Luther as well as several of his works—including his collected sermons (in 7 volumes!). You can borrow them any time.)


[1] Edward M. Plass, What Luther Says, vol. 2 (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1959), p. 62.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Oberman, Luther: Man Between God and the Devil, p. 102.

[4] Ibid, p. 324.

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