John Bradshaw - Here I Stand
This is It Is Written. I'm John Bradshaw. Thanks for joining me for 500. Our special series on the Reformation, which is 500 years old, thanks to, an extraordinary life and an extraordinary ministry. Martin Luther is the subject of this program. We're going to take you to Germany, Luther's Germany and beyond for "Here I Stand," words made famous by Martin Luther. And I'm honored that our special guest on this program is Dr. Leslie Pollard, the President of Oakwood University in Huntsville, Alabama. Dr. Pollard, thanks for joining me.
Dr. Leslie Pollard: My pleasure, thank you. I'm glad to be here.
John Bradshaw: Briefly, who was is this Martin Luther? Tell me something about the man and his impact.
Dr. Leslie Pollard: Okay, I'll say it in three words: lover, fighter, visionary. Martin Luther.
John Bradshaw: That was Martin Luther. Well you're going to hear more about Martin Luther as this program goes by. He was all of that. Martin Luther was a man who successfully changed his world and he changed ours. We're going to travel together to Wittenberg in Germany. It's a city of around 50,000 people these days in a part of the world once known, a generation ago, as East Germany. It's interesting that during the communist East German times, the Martin Luther sites in Wittenberg languished. They were neglected and they fell into a state of disrepair. In recent times, there's been a lot of work done to bring Wittenberg up to its current splendor, the Luther premises have been refurbished. The Lucas Cranach studio has been rebuilt or sort of reenacted.
Melanchton's home is right there on the same street as where Luther used to live, and that's now a place for tourists to visit as well. So the restoration of democracy in what was East Germany has been good for the restoration of the Protestant sites of historic value. Wittenberg is a place in sort of place. It's hard to know just how much the average Wittenbergan knows or cares about Martin Luther. But in the last few years there's been a lot of caring as the entire town has been, well, spruced up a little bit for what's taking place late in 2017. Huge celebrations, huge commemorations will happen in Wittenberg, October 31 being the 500th anniversary to the day of what we call the founding of the Reformation. At that time really the sites of the world will be trained on Wittenberg in Germany.
Martin Luther was a revolutionary. He was a radical but he did not set out to be any of that. He simply wanted to reform his church. He realized that there was certain things being taught in his church that not only did not measure with the Bible, but he felt also robbed people of their joy. If you examine the 95 Theses, you see that one of the things that pops up again and again, about 15 different times, is purgatory. I'm certain I'll be speaking with Dr. Pollard about purgatory a little later on.
Now, if you don't have a background in what this is all about, then perhaps it's not that easy for you to appreciate. In Roman Catholic thinking, if you're not good enough to get to heaven, and pardon me for phrasing it that way, if you deem it incorrect, and not bad enough to go to hell, there is a place you can go to be purged of your sins, it's purg-a-tory, purgatory, what we know it as today. The place of purging so that you can be purified from your sins and then go to heaven. Of course, on the one hand, it provides believers with an enormous amount of assurance. I wasn't good enough the first time around, God will cleanse me, purge me in purgatory and ready me for everlasting life. But imagine being as I was a kid, I remember this just about as vividly as I remember anything in my life, being a young person considering purgatory.
Of course, I'd of preferred to gone to heaven, but I didn't think I was good enough for that, who thinks they're good enough for that. And nobody wants to consider that they're going to go to hell. That's the worst alternative of all. But as purgatory was explained to me, it was a place where you would pay for your sins, atone for your sins, where you'd be punished for your sins. And while I didn't have a good idea in my mind exactly what that would be like, I knew it wasn't gonna to be good. And I knew I could be in a place of suffering for thousands of years, at least that's how it was explained to me by the nuns who educated me. And so there I was as a kid. When you're a kid, a day is a long time, you get a little bit older, a year just flies by.
So imagine being south of 10 years old and thinking about thousands of years in a place of suffering. I'd do anything I could do to avoid that. Anything at all. So you can understand how in Luther's day when the church dominated entirely where the pope was as God in the minds of the people. When they were confronted with purgatory and they knew it's awful, in fact, what they knew about it was what the priests told them about it because they had no access to reading material on the subject and of course, purgatory is a mythical place anyway.
When you're a peasant and you're illiterate and you're ignorant in your ways and somebody says to you for a sum of money that's all, you can be freed from your future time in purgatory, for a sum of money you can get time off your time in purgatory, for a sum of money your wife or your children or your parents can be spared much of the suffering in purgatory. You think that has an impact on you? I know from experience it has an impact on you. Martin Luther knew that people who are bound up in this type of theology were essentially slaves to these teachings that were not true and would demonstrably and monstrously false. And so he felt compelled to do something about it.
So Martin Luther Here I Stand words he spoke with conviction at the Diet of Worms, Worms, a city in Germany, the diet was a council, it was where he was brought to recant his positions, to deny his Biblical faith, to turn his back on, to repudiate what he had written as a Protestant. Luther arrived at that Diet with fire in his bones, recant, he could not. "Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God". In just a moment, Here I Stand, the Martin Luther story. It's part of 500, our look at The Reformation, brought to you by It Is Written. I'll be back in just a moment.
John Bradshaw: This is It Is Written. I'm John Bradshaw. Thanks for joining me. What makes a reformer? Consider with me Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The son of a minister, raised in Atlanta, Georgia, not raised in privilege, but raised in society that was designed to disadvantage him. Yet he then went on to become a revolutionary, an agent of change. He boldly confronted a powerful system. You might ask why? What drives a man to do that? But Martin Luther King Jr. was driven to act, to write, to speak, to organize, to protest by a system that was broken, by a society that gloried in its brokenness and was determined to preserve its dysfunction.
"I still have a dream," he said, one last summer's day in 1963 on the mall in Washington, DC. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. By the time Dr. King was murdered outside room 306 of the Lorraine Motel in 1968, there would be no stopping the progress that he and so many others along with him had made in advancing the American civil rights movement. Looking back on those days, it's difficult to imagine that a country would choose to live with the system it had created. In the land of the free, millions of people were not free. Self-determination was the lot of some, not all, intolerance was normal, the struggle to right the wrongs of civil injustice in the United States was long and hard. It cannot be suggested the revolution, if you'll let me call it that, should not have been waged.
So what is it that creates a revolutionary? You might say it's the times, an individual sees a need that must be met. Hears a call he or she cannot ignore. People like Gandhi, Susan B. Anthony, Harriet Tubman, William Wilberforce. I suspect many reformers, social or religious, will tell you they ultimately didn't choose the role they assumed, the role chose them. Martin Luther King Jr. was not named Martin when he was born. He was named Michael after his father, but when little Michael was just five years old, Michael Sr. made a trip to Germany to attend a church congress in Berlin. And while he was there he was so deeply impressed by the life and ministry of a certain German gospel minister that he made a decision to change his name and that of his son from Michael to Martin.
Not only did Martin Luther impress Pastor Michael King, Martin Luther changed the world. On October the 31st, in the year 1517, Martin Luther defied the system that was essentially governing Western civilization. His contribution to history is so immense that Time Magazine ranked him fourth on the list of the greatest men of the millennium. It all happened here, in Wittenberg, Germany, in the part of Germany that for more than 40 years was known as East Germany. In the 1500s Wittenberg was part of the kingdom of Saxony, and while the town now officially known Lutherstadt Wittenberg is a popular tourist destination.
In Luther's day it was anything but. Wittenberg is a pleasant town today with a population that hovers around 50,000. It's 60 miles southeast of Berlin and just a two-hour drive to the border with Poland. It sits on the Elbe River, which starts in the Czech Republic and flows through Germany right past Hamburg, Germany's second largest city and to the North Sea. During communism, Wittenberg's sites of religious significance were neglected. In preparation for the 500th anniversary of the starting of The Reformation, October 31, 1517, the town is being revitalized, the Castle Church is being renovated and there's a lot of pride in Wittenberg's favorite son.
Wittenberg, in Luther's day had a population of around 3,000 and it was hardly the sort of place that you would have thought would launch a revolution. Luther called it miserable. His right-hand man in reform; Philipp Melanchthon referred to Wittenberg as a hamlet comprised not of regular houses but only of little ones. Bad huts built of clay and covered with hay and straw. Duke George of Saxony called Wittenberg a hole. And one theologian wrote to a friend about the poor, miserable, filthy, little town of Wittenberg. Now that theologian couldn't stand Martin Luther. That might have colored his view, but you get the idea nevertheless. That this place was hardly the garden of Eden. Martin Luther was born here in Eisleben about 60 miles from Wittenberg on November 10th, 1483.
This whole area was part of what was known for centuries as the Holy Roman Empire. He grew up in poverty. His parents were peasants. His father worked as a miner. Hardship shaped his upbringing. Luther's father, Hans, wanted him to become a lawyer and he was appalled when Martin instead shows to enter a cloister to trying to become an Augustinian monk. However, it was in that cloister that Martin Luther found a Bible chained to the monastery wall. It was the first time she'd ever seen a whole Bible. You can imagine how he felt as he read the gospels and the epistles of Paul, he was moved. At the same time, he was overcome by the sense of his own sinfulness. He wanted to find peace with God and so he did what they told him to do at the monastery. He fasted, he prayed for hours, he even resorted to the flagellation.
Later he would say, if ever a monk could obtain heaven by his monkish works then I should certainly have been entitled to it. But Luther had a mentor during his training, a man named Johann von Staupitz. Luther would later say: "if it had not been for Dr. Staupitz I should surely have sunk in hell". Staupitz encouraged Luther by telling him this. Instead of torturing yourself on account of your sins throw yourself into the Redeemer's arms, trust in Him, in the righteousness of His life, in the atonement of His death. Listen to the son of God, he became man to give you the assurance of divine favor. Love Him who first loved you.
Between 1501 and 1505, Luther studied at the University of Erfurt, a two-day walk from his home here in Eisleben. He earned a master's degree, then he began studying law but he dropped out of law school to enter the cloister. But the fastings and the endless prayers and all that came with it, left Luther desperate. So in 1508 he accepted a call to teach theology at the University of Wittenberg. The university had been founded only a few years before by Frederick III, the Elector of Saxony. Frederick was a prince in the state of Saxony. He was known as an Elector because he was one of the elite who elected the king of the Romans. He was a powerful man.
Not only was Luther born here in Eisleben, but he died here as well. In fact, he died right here in this building behind me in the 1540. It was from this humble little spot virtually in the middle of the German nowhere that Luther was thrust into the global spotlight. Yet you come to town like this, busy towns. This is Lutherstadt Eisleben it's called or Lutherstadt Wittenberg, that's the city's official name. If you come to places like this, there's throngs of tourists, people visiting, people coming and going and you realize that the vast majority of those people haven't got a clue why Martin did what he did. The essence of Luther's protest has been lost. So why did he do it? Why he nailed his 95 Theses to the door of biggest church in town? Why did he pick a fight with the most powerful people on the planet. People he knew who didn't lose fights like those. I'll tell you in just a moment.
John Bradshaw: Thanks for joining me on It Is Written. It was on October 31st, 1517 that Martin Luther nailed his famous 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church and he launched the movement that became known to history as the Protestant Reformation. But when Martin Luther did that he wasn't a radical and he wasn't a revolutionary. He wasn't even a reformer. He was a loyal son of the Roman Catholic church. But when he was around 27 years old he traveled to the city of Rome. What he found when he got there shook him to his core. As a young monk, Luther had been living a strict lifestyle of self-denial, but when he arrived in Rome, he found priests and monks and bishops living in luxury and debauchery. He found so much spiritual corruption that he stated: "If there is a hell Rome is built over it". One event in particular profoundly affected him.
Pope Julius II had recently made a decree that a special indulgence was available to those who would walk on their knees up what had become known as Pilate's staircase. The staircase was believed to have been the very staircase Jesus walked on during His trial before Pontius Pilate. And the church claimed it had been miraculously transported from Jerusalem to Rome. Luther was determined to acquire this indulgence and so one day he devoutly climbed these stairs on his knees. But suddenly a voice seemed to declare in his ears like thunder the words of the apostle Paul quoting the prophet Habakkuk in the Book of Romans, "The just shall live by faith," Romans 1:17. Luther sprang to his feet and left the place in shame. He'd been practicing salvation by works. The idea that a person's good deeds merit favor with God as opposed to simply being a response to the goodness and the love of God. But he heard God say to his heart, "The just shall live by faith". And Martin Luther was a changed man.
Not long after he began teaching in Wittenberg, the church embarked on a grand new project, the building of the largest church in the world: St. Peter's Basilica, in what is now Vatican City. To help pay for the project, the church offered its people the chance to purchase indulgences for their sins. An indulgence is a way to reduce the amount of punishment you have to undergo for the sins you have committed. So while it's not exactly the same as buying salvation, you'd be buying pardon for sin which of course flies in the face of the entire Bible. Ephesians 2:8 tells us "We are saved by grace through faith, which is a gift of God". 1 John 1:9 says that "If we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins". Luther was appalled. Commissioned by the Archibishop of Mainz, a man named Johannes Tetzel began traveling around Germany selling these indulgences.
Now that might have got passed Martin Luther once upon a time, but not now. Not now that he understood something about the grace of God. He found the selling of indulgences to be completely sacrilegious. How, he wondered, could anybody purchase salvation or purchase lesser punishment for sin or purchase lesser time spent in purgatory, even if there was a purgatory? In the Bible when Simon Magus tried to purchase from Peter the power to work miracles, Peter replied, "Your money perish with you because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money".
That's Acts 8:20. Luther was strong in his opposition to the practice. He contacted this bishop and voiced his concerns and then he took those concerns public when he nailed them to the door of the Castle Church. Those concerns became known as Luther's 95 Theses and they launched the Protestant Reformation. The church, western civilization, the world would never be the same again. So what are the 95 Theses? The first one lays the foundation not only for those that follow, but also for the most basic message of the Reformation as far as human salvation is concerned. "When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, 'Repent,' He willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance". The second follows right on, "This word cannot be understood as referring to the sacrament of penance, that is, confession and satisfaction, as administered by the clergy".
Later he writes in number 20, "Therefore the pope, when he uses the words 'plenary remission of all penalties,' does not actually mean 'all penalties,' but only those imposed by himself". Number 21, "Thus those indulgence preachers are in error who say that a man is absolved from every penalty and saved by papal indulgences, sacraments of the church, or the purchase of indulgence". Number 27, "They preach only human doctrines who say that as soon as the money clinks into the money chest, the soul flies out of purgatory". Number 86, "Why does not the pope, whose wealth today is greater than the wealth of the richest Crassus, build this one basilica of St. Peter with his own money rather than with the money of poor believers"?
You can understand why Luther became so unpopular with the leaders of the church. His teachings spread throughout Germany and soon they made it to Rome. The pope demanded that Luther travel to Rome and stand trial for his teachings. German leaders refused. They said that Luther's trial must be heard in Germany, and so that's what took place. During that trial, Luther was told that he had to retract his teachings and submit to the authority of the church or he'd be sent to Rome for punishment. But he managed to get away from Augsburg where his case was heard by slipping through a gate in the wall of the city. And he made it back to Wittenberg and to safety. Frederick, the Elector of Saxony protected Luther. He refused to hand him over to the authorities of Rome, saving Luther from certain death.
Luther was excommunicated from the Roman Church. It's said that this tree here in Wittenberg marks the spot where he publicly burned the papal edict announcing his excommunication. Luther's writings began to spread throughout Europe when he was summoned to appeal before a council in the city of Worms. Huge crowd greeted him when he arrived there. It was found to be a heretic, that was almost a given, he'd be sentenced to death, and the cause of the Reformation might just die along with him, but if by some miracle he escaped the sentence of death, then the cause of the Bible would advance. When he was asked to recant, to retract his views and submit to the authority of the Church of Rome, Luther replied in words that would live forever.
"I cannot submit my faith either to the pope or to the councils, because it is clear as the day that they have frequently erred and contradicted each other. Unless therefore I am convinced by the testimony of Scripture, or by the clearest reasoning, unless I am persuaded by means of the passages I have quoted, and unless they thus render my conscience bound by the Word of God, I cannot and I will not retract, for it is unsafe for a Christian to speak against his conscience. Here I stand; I can do no other; may God help me. Amen".
The council refused to deliver Luther up to the church, but as on his way back here to Wittenberg, Luther was captured. He was captured by the man who protected him, Frederick, because Frederick knew it was not safe to leave Luther in circulation. So he took him to the Wartburg Castle to keep him safe. and while he was there, Luther translated the New Testament into German. Meanwhile, back here in Wittenberg, reform within the church continued. Priests began to marry, the worship service was altered, things that had been strictly forboden by the church.
Luther didn't do it all on his own. His right-hand man was Philipp Melanchthon, a religion professor who taught with Luther, apart from Luther and John Calvin, it's likely no figure stands higher in the development and history of the Protestant Reformation. Melanchthon is kind of the forgotten one, but he was absolutely essential to the work of Reform. The establishment of the Lutherian church and the crafting of the public witness would largely be accomplished through his work. Luther married Katharina von Bora, a former nun, a woman that he had helped escaped from a convent. With the Bible being the ultimate guide in his life, he came to view enforced or mandated celibacy as being completely unbiblical. And he realized that his church taught that Peter, said to be the first pope, had himself been married.
Now unfortunately, not all of Martin Luther's legacy has been positive for Christianity. There are many of Luther's admirers today who are embarrassed by the very antisemitic views that he often espoused. How in the world do you reconcile this idea of Luther on the one hand proclaiming the righteousness of Christ then on the other hand being a hatemonger? It has been said by commentators and critics that Luther fueled the fires of antisemitism which Adolf Hitler picked up on centuries later. Well you probably don't reconcile it, but there are a couple of things that, I think a person, really ought to keep in mind, Luther came to Christianity out of the abject darkness. He came to the Bible from no Biblical frame of reference, so to expect complete spiritual maturity from Martin Luther is maybe a little bit too much.
Luther was wrong in his antisemitic views. Nevertheless, there have been a lot of people down through the years who had been wrong particularly about matters of faith. David, wrong about a lot, Solomon, his lifestyle, his practices were in many cases wrong, James and John wanted to call fire down from heaven and incinerate people simply because they weren't on the same team. That was wrong, there were church men in the United States who defended slavery and used the Bible to justify their aberrant positions. Wrong. So on the one hand, Luther was a revolutionary, Luther was a radical, Luther was a reformer, he saw so much in the church and in the world that he called to people's attention and pointed out as being outside of God's will. On this one though for the most part, he missed it. You wonder why that can happen. A bit of a mystery really.
Luther's final sermon would be delivered here in his hometown of Eisleben on February 15, 1546, three days before his death. He didn't set out to form a new church, to be a troublemaker, he simply wanted the church to look to the Bible and embrace the teachings of Jesus and allow people to read the Bible for themselves and be guided by the Holy Spirit. In fact, Luther coined the phrase "sola scriptura," the Bible alone. Luther wasn't guided by tradition and would be faithful to God's word. And this form the basis of the most profoundly impactful religious movement in almost 2,000 years. The supremacy of the Bible and the teaching of justification by grace alone through faith alone, in Christ alone were Luther's passions and they lit a fire for the gospel that illuminated the world and has led millions and millions of people to faith in Jesus Christ.
Now do you think Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would say the work he started has really been completed? Or do you think that he might think there's a little more work that needs to be done? The same is likely true of Martin Luther. There's still work that needs to be done. There are still people the world over who must hear the great truths of the Bible and be led to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. So how is it with you, friend? How's that working out in your life? How is it with you?
John Bradshaw: Welcome back to 500. I'm John Bradshaw from It Is Written. My special guest is Dr. Leslie Pollard. He's the president of Oakwood University in Huntsville, Alabama. Dr. Pollard, thanks so much for joining me.
Dr. Leslie Pollard: Thank you. It is my pleasure to be here.
John Bradshaw: I really appreciate this. And we got a great subject to talk about, Martin Luther, whose fingerprints are all over history.
Dr. Leslie Pollard: Yes.
John Bradshaw: You can't really discuss theology without talking about Martin Luther. You're certainly going talk about the Reformation. So who was this man? Where did he spring from? And what kind of a person was he?
Dr. Leslie Pollard: Well, Martin Luther was far more ordinary than we have gone back and reconstructed him to be. He was born in 1483 to working class parents, although the dad did have some ownerships, some leasing and some mines and things like that, but, uh, his mother Margarethe was a working class lady and their family was very well-structured. He had other brothers and sisters. One brother that we think he was pretty close to because he mentioned him, he didn't mention the others as much. Um, but he was an ordinary person who was called to do something extraordinary, out of his love and passion for God. So, just a wonderful personality, a confusing personality in history. Um, we think about him as, um, as a zealot, as a reformer, as a protestor, but he was also a musician, he loved music, he loved poetry.
John Bradshaw: He, he composed "A Mighty Fortress is Our God".
Dr. Leslie Pollard: That's an eternal song, "A Mighty Fortress is Our God". So, so there was something, and as one scholar said, he, we never think of him as a lover, we, as somebody who fell radically, desperately, deeply in love with God. We, we don't tend to think of him that way, but, but he did do that.
John Bradshaw: 1517, 500 years ago, Luther's not the first reformer to have come along.
Dr. Leslie Pollard: No.
John Bradshaw: So, what do you think it was? Maybe we're trying to get inside the mind of God here, but perhaps we're trying to get in the mind of history as well, why then, why Luther? Perhaps it had something to do with Luther being, uh, uniquely suited to a good fight. What was it about that time that made that date, October 31, 1517 the right time to launch a revolution.
Dr. Leslie Pollard: When I think about that time, John, I think about the text in Galatians "when the fullness of time had come," and when Christ appeared in history, there was a confluence of events that made it the perfect time for God to launch the personal plan of salvation embodied in Jesus Christ. Similarly, with Martin Luther, right at that time, we were at a crossroads in history. The, um, the papal church then, the historic papal church had achieved its ascendancy in the Holy Roman empire, the feudal system had reduced, had created a, a, class stratification that was almost unbreakable. There were the wealthy have's, the landowners, and the unwealthy have-not's, the, the poor and the outcast.
There was a sense of psychological and theological dominance in the landscape of that era. And something needed to happen in order to, I believe, to correct the image of God as an exacting transactional entity who wanted blood for blood and, and good work for good work, and in the scales of salvation, if you committed, if you have a demerit, then you're in a bad position, but a merit brings you back. And Luther as a, as a figure was passionate in his love for God, but the checklist morality of the time did not satisfy him, he, he, something was missing. Something was missing. And, and it's, it's in that window that God speaks to this, this monk who, with all of his soul wants to please this transactional God and keeps failing.
John Bradshaw: Take us back to the time. Today, if you wanna believe in God, you'll knock yourself out. If you don't, you know, don't, If you wanna have pink hair or blue hair or no hair, it doesn't really matter, tattoo or not. Anyway, people are free to do what they wanna do. Uh, maybe that's good and maybe some isn't, but it is what it is. So let's go back to Luther's time, what was that day like? What was it like to live in Luther's society?
Dr. Leslie Pollard: Okay. October 31st, 1517 when he nails his 95 Theses to the church's door in Wittenberg. Okay, so, it's an oppressive time, psychologically and theologically, because the dominance of the papal church is everything. What we often don't process is that it's economic dominance as well because the church is very wealthy and it has access to privilege and opportunity. It is a time when there is severe class stratification where peasants have almost no hope. It is a time of wide spread illiteracy, only very few, the public education as we know it did not exist, only, only very few people get to go to school and to learn to read and to become literate human beings. So, right at that time, God chooses, I believe, because I think we have to see the overarching hand of God in some of this history, God chooses in that time to speak to this people and to set them free through the, through the ministry of Martin Luther, a ministry that he grew into, never planned, simply wanted to reform, never planned to launch a whole new movement called Protestantism. That wasn't his plan. His plan was to reform his church.
John Bradshaw: So, Luther came out of the dark.
Dr. Leslie Pollard: Yeah.
John Bradshaw: He wasn't ra... he didn't go to Sunday school.
Dr. Leslie Pollard: No.
John Bradshaw: He, he wasn't going to Bible study with his friends.
Dr. Leslie Pollard: He was one monk among many.
John Bradshaw: Yeah.
Dr. Leslie Pollard: One among many.
John Bradshaw: And they weren't guided by the, the, the, they didn't have the Word of God burning in their bellies, it wasn't anything like that. In a certain sense, that'll help us understand some of the, maybe his theological, uh, inconsistencies. But this was a man who was a champion for the Bible.
Dr. Leslie Pollard: He was. He was.
John Bradshaw: How did he get to that place? Keeping in mind, he wasn't born into a world, there wasn't a Bible on, on the table in the living room where he was raised, but this man became a champion for the Bible. How did he get from abject darkness to that concept of being a champion for the, the light of lights?
Dr. Leslie Pollard: Yeah, yeah he, he, certainly embraced the vulgate, because that's what he used, the Latin vulgate and, of course, he was very fluent in Latin. But I think as Luther walked his journey and began to interact directly with the Word of God and to reflect upon it's teachings, particularly the Book of Romans and, and the notion that the just shall live by faith, I think, again, this is where how we think about Luther becomes important, Luther fell in love with God and that love he wanted everybody to experience, every peasant, every surf, he wanted every citizen to experience it. And he came to believe that if the church stands between the Scripture, the unfettered communication of Scripture, and the believer, if the church came to stand between that, they would never get to that place of love and freedom that he had come to, and thus he was, after his excommunication, he said what I'm gonna do is I'm gonna, in that 10 month period, he translated the Bible into the German language so that commoners who could read could read it.
What a gift! I think that's one of his biggest contributions. That translation of the Bible into the common parlance, which by the way, is the parlance in which it was written originally anyway. It was always intended for the common people. It was never to be the possession of the religious hierarchy. The Bible was never intended, that's why, I'm in New Testament, that's why coyney Greek which is common Greek issue. It's not classical Greek that the average Greek citizen could not read. It's coyney Greek because it was always intended to be in the hands of the simple believer.
John Bradshaw: He was interesting amalgamations really, wasn't he? Because this was a man with a giant intellect.
Dr. Leslie Pollard: He was.
John Bradshaw: Which says boys and girls something about the importance of doing your homework and going to school because...
Dr. Leslie Pollard: Amen.
John Bradshaw: ...who drove the Reformation forward were academic giants.
Dr. Leslie Pollard: Amen.
John Bradshaw: However, this was a man who didn't have his head in the clouds. He had, he, he was a giant academically, but he was committed to making the Bible as accessible to everyday people as he possibly could.
Dr. Leslie Pollard: Yes.
John Bradshaw: Which, which speaks, I think, to, uh, he had this level headedness about him.
Dr. Leslie Pollard: He did.
John Bradshaw: Maybe, as you said right at the beginning, you said that he was a common guy and never really forgot where he came from.
Dr. Leslie Pollard: It was important that his mother and his father would understand the gospel too. That was important. And again, the best use, I work in academia, the best use of intellect, I say to my friends in theology, I have proven nothing if I can confuse a 19 year old with my theological discourse. I, I've proven nothing. But where I have proven something though is if I can take the lingua franca of the theology and translate it into the coinage of the common listener. If I can do that, then my theology will be most effective. It will have legs that will run. It will have hands that will work. And it will have a heart that feels. And that's really what Luther was able to do. He was able through his movement to set people free with his assurance, with the assurance of salvation. And, and again, we cannot under estimate that in the time, this is a radical notion, this is a radical notion that, that the treasure house of the saints, that all their treasured good works, which are accessed through indulgences, mean nothing because "the just shall live by faith". It freed up a whole world.
John Bradshaw: Now we're gonna come back to that, we'll do that in just a moment.
Dr. Leslie Pollard: Okay.
John Bradshaw: Justification by faith, purgatory, indulgences, these are the things that that lit a fire under Luther because it did, Luther set the world on fire. Back with more in just a moment.
John Bradshaw: Welcome back to 500. I'm John Bradshaw. Here I Stand, the life and ministry of Martin Luther. I have the privilege of speaking to my guest Dr. Leslie Pollard who is the president of Oakwood University. Dr. Pollard, back to Martin Luther, there were some certain theological things that he fought against. Let's check them off. Purgatory.
Dr. Leslie Pollard: Yes.
John Bradshaw: If you read the 95 Theses, many of them, 15 or so of them, deal specifically with purgatory, mention purgatory, it was really significant to Martin Luther. Why was that so significant to Luther in Luther's time?
Dr. Leslie Pollard: Well, I think, I think, John, that, that purgatory represented a kind of unique theological aberration, may I say, even heresy that the soul could be purged through the fires. I mean, for an indefinite period that the soul could be purged through the fires of Hades. And I like to liken it to taking a child and putting bamboo shoots under their fingernails for hundreds and thousands and even millions of years. So, so there was this theological heresy that just did not seem to square with Scripture. But I think another effect, and some writers had pointed out, it also represented the severest psychological bondage that the, the ancient believer would have been held under.
John Bradshaw: Explain that to me.
Dr. Leslie Pollard: Well, by that I mean, psychologically if my relatives are in this space where they are being tortured because that's effectively what they are doing, there're held in this nether world of torture and that it's up to me to be able to free them through, through the corollary to purgatory is indulgences. So, if it's up to me, then even if I don't have the money, I will work to get the money and thus I enrich what is the institutional church of the time. So one of the things I like to do is to look at the economic, I'm an MBA, so I also look at the economic ties to some of these doctrines. And there is, there is a profound economic benefit to the ancient church at this time. Under this doctrine of purgatory and indulgence, there's a benefit that also comes along with the control.
John Bradshaw: Well, Tetzel came into Wittenburg...
Dr. Leslie Pollard: Yeah.
John Bradshaw: Carrying that box, or coffer or some kind.
Dr. Leslie Pollard: Yes.
John Bradshaw: And ultimately, indulgences paid for the building of St. Peter's basilica.
Dr. Leslie Pollard: Absolutely so look at the economic benefit. Yeah, there is.
John Bradshaw: You can imagine, can't you, having a dollar in your pocket and knowing that this is gonna get mom reduction in her time in purgatory-
Dr. Leslie Pollard: Yes. That's right.
John Bradshaw: What does that make you...
Dr. Leslie Pollard: Oh, my goodness. That makes me, that, that makes me feel free. It makes me feel worthwhile. It makes me feel benefited. Psychologically I have been a helper. I have done something praiseworthy. Let's say I was not even respectful to mom or dad or whatever. Or let's say I left home and I was a, a prodigal and, and they died with me in the far country. Now I can say I'm sorry.
John Bradshaw: You can make it up to them?
Dr. Leslie Pollard: I can make it up to them. I mean, Tetzel, Tetzel was, Johann Tetzel was notorious promoter of indulgences. And one of the little sayings around him was, um, that he had perfected was as soon as the coin, um, as soon as the coin on the bottom of the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.
John Bradshaw: Yeah, that's a great sales pitch.
Dr. Leslie Pollard: Tremendous power.
John Bradshaw: Yeah. And so Luther saw this fellow coming into his own, into his own perish, fleecing essentially...
Dr. Leslie Pollard: He did.
John Bradshaw: And that, that really made a boom with the righteous indignation, didn't it?
Dr. Leslie Pollard: It did. It did. And he, and he thought this can't be true. This can't be true. So in the 95 Theses, he challenges it and says, "Okay. If it is true, let's look at Scripture history tradition and find out when and where this became true"? Because it wasn't always a practice. It became a very convenient practice in Luther's day. And there was at least one village in which, one area which it had been banned. But, but the people then would go beyond the borders of that province in order to buy indulgences.
John Bradshaw: Luther equals justification by faith.
Dr. Leslie Pollard: All the way.
John Bradshaw: So, what was he up against and how did he get to that place? I mean, it's a radical teaching, just what, just the things that we're talking about, speak of salvation by works.
Dr. Leslie Pollard: It does. It does.
John Bradshaw: But Luther turned this thing around completely, did a 180 degrees. So, so, let's talk about what justification by faith meant in the mind and theology of Martin Luther.
Dr. Leslie Pollard: Okay. So for Luther, justification was a free gift. He, his favorite books Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, especially Ephesians 2:8 By grace are you saved. He, he quotes this, "I'm not ashamed of the gospel" Romans 1:16: for it is the power of God into salvation. In Galatians, you know, you're saved by grace, by faith. That whole debate. So for him, justification was the free gift of God that bestowed salvation, had been purchased through Jesus Christ act on calvary, his sacrificial, death, his resurrected life. And when Luther saw that, he then saw what he saw as the aberrations of, of someone adding to this gift, other requirements, and he reacted to it, but, but it wasn't because he didn't try to fulfill those requirements. So, I think it's important to recognize that a part of Luther's theology is not controlled by his experience, but it is definitely influenced by his own experience with pursuing righteousness and never being able to obtain it.
John Bradshaw: He spurred to beginning of the Protestant Reformation, so you can answer this in a thousand different ways.
Dr. Leslie Pollard: Yeah.
John Bradshaw: What does he bequeath to us today? Where do we start to weigh that up?
Dr. Leslie Pollard: I think if you look at the stances he took around the only's, you know, sola is the Latin word for only. So, sola scriptura is one of his great legacies. The Bible and the Bible only. Now it doesn't mean that Luther didn't respect tradition, but he only respected traditional interpretation of scripture as it conformed to Scripture. So, so, so, so he's, so he's radical in that sense, but he's not so radical that he will not allow that there have been other positive and correct interpretation, so sola scriptura. Out of that sola scriptura, sola gracia, that, that grace alone. By grace alone are we saved. And so this becomes one of the legacies that is still operational in Protestantism today. And then sola fide, the, the, the life of faith, that faith is the access to that grace that saves us. And then sola christus, the Christ alone. So he loved Christ and Christ is enough. He is enough. I can't say that enough. He is enough. He doesn't need anything extra, He is enough. And then, of course, um, soli deo Gloria, to the glory of God, only to the glory of God that life is to be translated out so that we live in the glory of God. Those five things to me are lasting contributions. Now you could underscore those, his protest ethic.
John Bradshaw: Sure.
Dr. Leslie Pollard: His sense of justice, although there were times in his life, where he did fail that test, but, but all of the other things that make a protest a protest, um, when the princes stood with him. Um, all of that is grounded in those five only's. If these five foundation stones are in place, then out of that will come an allegiance to God and not an allegiance to man. I mean, that's the protest to the princes. The princes say, we are to obey God rather than man, the church and all the other things. God only. So, I think his legacy lives with us 500 years later. It lives with us today. Whenever, when I see young people today in modern movements concerned about the ecology, I think sometimes of Luther. That when I see them concerned about injustice and, and an equitable world I think sometimes about the principles that Luther left us, that every human being should have that dignity, even though, he may have failed at sometimes in some of his antisemitic statements, but the overarching principle is always true and it's bigger than the purveyor of the principle. The principle is always bigger than the purveyor of the principle. So none of us will live out our faith perfectly or in complete maturity, but we will live it to the best of our ability, and when you do that God will say of us as He can say of Martin Luther. Well done, thou good and faithful servant.
John Bradshaw: Dr. Pollard, it's been fantastic. Thanks for taking the time. Appreciate it greatly.
Dr. Leslie Pollard: Thank you, my pleasure.
John Bradshaw: And thank you for taking the time for joining us. Be sure to join us next time for our next program in 500, you'll be as blessed then as I pray and hope you've been today. Let's pray together now, can we do that? Our Father in Heaven, we've been on a journey as we've traced this, this outstanding life, an ordinary person blessed by the great sovereign of the universe to do extraordinary things. And today we are the beneficiaries of much of what Luther did. He's left us so much that's positive. We don't have to imitate the man but his ethic his approach to you. We thank you that you've given us the opportunity to say 'Here I Stand.' Lord let the fire of faith burn in our hearts. I pray that we'll have a life like Luther did, what you did through him was miraculous. It will take a miracle, but you can do it in us. And I pray that you will some way there's a man, a woman or young person looking at his or her life and wondering what next, I pray that you encourage that one, that there is salvation by faith, that there is salvation through the grace of this great God of heaven. Lord, we thank you. We know that the Reformation must be finished. It must be finished soon. We are looking forward to going home. Let it be so, we pray. We thank you, in Jesus name. Amen.
Dr. Leslie Pollard: Amen.
John Bradshaw: Dr. Pollard, thanks again.
Dr. Leslie Pollard: Thank you.
John Bradshaw: And thank you again. Looking forward to seeing you again next time. Until then remember, "It Is Written, man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God".