Restoring the Wittenberg Door

Tools for a New Reformation?

In 1517 a common Catholic monk named Martin Luther started a tidal wave in Christendom by nailing his Ninety-Five Thesis to the door of Wittenberg Church. Initially he got very little response to this bold challenge to ecclesiastical abuses, but within a year he was put on trial for being a heretic.

The door of the Wittenberg Church was sort of a bulletin board for the university, a place where people could post their events and expound on their views. It’s not too much of a stretch to say it was similar to today’s blog, Twitter, or Facebook posts, giving people an interactive way to express their concerns or share words of encouragement.

Luther’s message on the Wittenberg door challenged the status quo—and, of course, the status quo challenged Luther right back. But when asked to recant his message, he replied:

Unless I am convicted by scripture and plain reason, I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other. My conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.

According to legend, Luther also said the famous words: “Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen!”

We desperately need some “Wittenberg Doors” today. The church and the secular culture are again in need of major reformation. People need safe places to ask honest questions about whether the status quo is truly representative of God’s highest will.

Thanks to new technology and the rise of social networks, we have unparalleled opportunities for communication. But hopefully the truly prophetic messages of our day won’t be drowned out in the sea of personal trivia and chatter that social networking sometimes represents.

Today, as in Luther’s day, we need safe places to deliver “dangerous” messages. Of course, Wittenberg Doors present an inevitable risk. There is nothing godly or “prophetic” about personal vendettas or doctrinal axes to grind. The writer of Hebrews warns us not to allow a “root of bitterness,” which will defile many (Hebrews 12:15). Yes, we are commanded to “speak the truth” to one another, but Paul makes it clear that the motivation must always be “in love” (Ephesians 4:15).

This call for more truth-speaking will no doubt attract some disillusioned and disgruntled believers who simply want to firebomb the church. But that is a perversion of what the Wittenberg Door is all about. Even though we are called to challenge the status quo at times, it must be with a constant realization that the church—warts and all—is the beloved bride that Jesus died to create.

In the Jewish Talmud, the rabbinic teachers forbade people from mocking or jeering at anyone or anything except idolatry. However, idolatry in its many forms—sacred cows, to be exact—is a legitimate target for our inquiry or even our derision.

Luther saw the Reformation as something far more important than just a revolt against ecclesiastical abuses or petty doctrinal differences. He believed it was a fight for nothing less than the true gospel. In a similar way, may God raise up bold leaders today who will point the church back to the gospel—and to Christ as the church’s rightful Head.

Let a new tidal wave of reformation begin.


9 thoughts on “Restoring the Wittenberg Door

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