October 31, 2017
About 600 years ago a Bohemian priest and theologian, Jon Huss, was burned at the stake as a heretic. He had gotten into trouble with the Roman Catholic Church for bringing up a number of issues which he felt needed to be corrected. He denounced the failings of the clergy, not unlike some of the things Ezekiel wrote about many years before him. One of his last “unforgivable sins” was that of appealing directly to Jesus Christ as the supreme judge and arbitrator and bypassing the church hierarchy. You might think that things have not changed all that much in 600 years since it was only recently that the present Roman Pope, Pope Francis, said, “Having a personal relationship with Jesus is dangerous and harmful” and “must be avoided at all costs.”
I am of the opinion that building a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ is one of the richest treasures, and delights one might attain in this life, and the next. But more important than what my opinion is, would be what does scripture teach, and I believe we are in sound biblical doctrine to believe that Jesus desires an intimate relationship with each of us for whom He paid such the ultimate price to redeem. At any rate, not everyone agrees with that, and Jon Huss was martyred for preaching such things.
Huss had been granted a promise of safe passage, but he was lied to and was placed on trial. There was a total solar eclipse during the trial and he was condemned to death, this brings to mind the lunar eclipse which occurred at the time of the crucifixion of Christ. In both cases people felt it signified God’s displeasure in the trial and conviction of a just man. Of note were the words which Huss spoke as he was tied to the stake and the pyre was lit around him, he prophesied, “You are now going to burn a goose (the name of Huss means goose in Bohemian), but in a century you will have a swan whom you can neither roast nor boil.”
About a hundred years later a German priest and theologian named Martin Luther was credited with lighting the spark which set off the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther often referred to himself as a swan and this was often illustrated on his printed pamphlets in which he also questioned the corruptions of the Roman church at the time. On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his “95 Thesis of Contention” to the door of the Castle Church in the university town of Wittenberg, Germany, and sparked a revolution which set flames to the dark ages.
On the night of October 30, 1517, Prince Frederick of Saxony went to bed thinking of what he should do for All Saints Day, October 31. That night he had a dream which was recorded the next morning. In the dream a monk wrote on the church door of Wittenberg with a goose-quill pen so large that it reached to Rome (it was common practice at the time to post announcements on this door). As those in authority tried to break the pen, the stronger the pen became. When asked how the pen got so strong, the monk in the dream replied, “The pen belonged to an old goose of Bohemia, a hundred years old. I got it from one of my old schoolmasters.” The next morning he shared his dream with his brother who wrote it down, and that very morning Martin Luther nailed his theses to the door of the church. This dream became a strong justification for Prince Frederick to place Luther under his protection later, otherwise he most assuredly would have met with the same fate as Huss.
Sola scriptura, Latin for Scripture alone! became the rallying cry of the Protestant Reformation, meaning that the Scripture alone was the primary source available for instruction on all matters of faith and practice. From this resulted the desire that the Scriptures should be in the hands of every man so that every man could study and know how he should walk before his God, not unlike the Bereans who received the word which the apostle Paul brought to them, and also searched the Scriptures daily for themselves to document whether these things were so (Acts 17:11). Likewise the apostle Peter also said that the scripture is the most sure word of prophecy (2 Peter 1:19).
Today marks the 500th anniversary since Martin Luther nailed his “95 Thesis” to the door of the church in Wittenberg Germany and started a reformation which still has effects and consequences to this day. He challenged the corruptions of selling indulgences and taught that salvation was by faith alone. Like Wycliffe 200 years before him, he spoke of the need for the word of God in the common language so everyone could have it in their hands and in their hearts. Like Huss 100 years before him he trusted Christ as his advocate and in Him alone for salvation. He said “We are saved by faith alone, but the faith that saves is never alone.” Unlike those who went before him he was able to get his ideas into the hands of the people through the then recent invention of the printing press. Nothing can stop a revelation when it’s time has come, it can catch like a match to dry tinder and take on a life of it’s own. “A simple layman armed with Scripture is greater than the mightiest pope without it.” he said. By proposing such simple truths he was considered such a danger to the status quo that he was tried and condemned. At his trial he was asked to recant his ideas and writings but he replied “Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason-I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for 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 cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen.”
As we celebrate 500 years since the challenge was nailed on the church in Wittenberg, he fires are still burning. May we never allow the coals to grow cold, but may we encourage one another to study the scriptures and recognize the importance of the sacred text which testifies of the Lord Jesus, (Jn 5:39) whom we know and who will never leave or forsake us, ever!