Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Heb 13:7-8
“I was born to contend on the field of battle with factions and with wicked spirits. That is why my works abound with war and tempest. It is my task to uproot the stock and the stem, to clear away the briars and under-wood, to fill up the pools and the marshes. I am the rough woodman who has to prepare the way and smooth the road.” Martin Luther
I write this because I believe it is essential that we have godly heroes, not only because we need them, but because God said we need them. That is the sense of Hebrews 13:7-8, which says, “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” We are to remember the men and women who not only spoke the word to us but lived it before us. We are to consider, ponder and reflect upon their faith. We are to consider their lives, not just when they were strutting in public in the brightness of lights, but, rather, when they were struggling in private in the darkness of the nights.
When I “consider” Luther, I want to know the secret of his powerful life. I want to see what it was that made his faith and his influence so powerful. I want to see how he responded in times of great pressure and personal threat. Although I will never be a Luther, I want to have the same kind of faith he had. I can, because I have the same kind of Lord that he had.
Martin Luther was chosen by God for battle at a critical time in history. God spoke to him in the Scriptures and so transformed his life that he was willing to die for the name of Jesus and the gospel. It may come as a surprise to you that he did not start out as an enemy of the Pope or of the Roman Catholic Church. He was a reformer not a revolutionary. He began by humbly appealing to the Pope to consider his concerns, but he was rejected and so was his teaching. The more he wrote the greater grew the hostility against him. Before long, he became embroiled in a life and death struggle.
One of his most interesting conflicts occurred with the humanist Erasmus. Erasmus is known best for providing an accurate Greek text of the New Testament that became the source for Luther’s German translation. At one time, Erasmus and Luther had a level of friendship. But, as Luther continued to push his controversial theological insights, Erasmus became more and more uneasy with the divisiveness of his activities. In his book, Freedom of the Will, he took Luther to task for putting doctrinal issues above the unity in the Church.
Erasmus had a dislike for any kind of strife and confessed a preference for peace and accord to truth and turmoil. Rather than make assertions regarding controversial issues, he preferred to leave those things to the decisions and the traditions of the Church. He wrote, “I gladly submit my judgment to these authorities in all that they lay down, whether I follow it or not.” Luther responded to Erasmus’ criticism in his book A Bondage of the Will. For Luther, Erasmus refusal to make assertions on key doctrinal issues was unthinkable. Here is a portion of Luther’s reply to Erasmus:
To take no pleasure in assertions is not the mark of a Christian heart; indeed, one must delight in assertions to be a Christian at all. [Now, lest we be misled by words, let me say here that by ‘assertion’ I mean staunchly holding your ground, stating your position, confessing it, defending it and persevering in it unvanquished. I do not think that the term has any other meaning, either in classical authors or in present day usage. And I am talking about the assertion of what has been delivered to us from above in the Sacred Scriptures.] [Luther: Dillenberger; 168]
In many ways we face the same problem today. Whenever we hear, “I don’t get into the controversial issues of doctrine. Doctrine divides,” we are in the same mold as Erasmus. But it is doctrines that determine who we are. You say, “No, I just follow Jesus.” But, which Jesus do you follow? The Jesus who is displayed in the Bible or the Jesus you want or the popular Jesus constructed out of the hay and stubble of men? The whole Bible is a record of doctrines, confessions and bold assertions. Luther summed it up this way: “Take away assertions and you take away Christianity.”
I faced a similar situation a few years ago. A denominational psychologist wrote in our national magazine something I found totally unbiblical and completely dishonoring to the truth of the scriptures. So, I wrote to our denominational leadership pointing out the danger of this man’s assertion. It was referred to a committee on doctrinal purity. In a few months, I received this reply: [paraphrased] “Brother, this statement was probably wrong, but brother, remember that the most important thing to remember is that we are brothers.”
I disagree. I understand the heart of this response. Truth delivered in an attitude of pride and mean spiritedness can be harmful. We are to speak the truth in love. [Ephesians 4:15]. But, the most important thing is not brotherliness or peace. It is truth, God’s truth as delivered to us in God’s Word. Without the truth, there can be no brotherliness or peace. Without holding to the truth found in Jesus, there can be no freedom. [John 8:31-32]
Luther was a little more direct in his response to Erasmus: “In a word, what you say comes to this: that you do not think it matters a scrap what anyone believes anywhere, so long as the world is at peace; you would be happy with anyone whose life, reputation, welfare or influence was at stake to emulate him who said ‘if they affirm, I affirm; if they deny, so do I;’ and you would encourage him to treat Christian doctrines as no better than the views of human philosophers.”
We must not be overwhelmed by the environment in which we live. On the one hand, we must be careful not to be conformed to the ugliness that presently dominates our political world today. But, on the other hand, we must not be intimidated or isolated because our confession of absolute truth goes against the spirit of the age. To say Jesus is the only way to the Father is divisive to the world. To say that the scriptures can be understood and that the details of the scriptures are to be hammered out and followed with great passion for correctness, will be divisive in the church.
Luther pointed to Paul’s instruction to Timothy as clear evidence that assertions matter. “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage-with great patience and careful instruction.” [2 Tim 4:2] Paul is commanding Timothy to not only believe but assert, constantly, correcting, rebuking, encouraging, with great patience and careful instruction. Luther comments: “What a clown I should think a man to be who did not really believe, nor unwaveringly assert, those things concerning which he reproved others! I think I should send him to Anticycral. [A mental institution]
We are not Christians without assertions: “God is the Creator and the Ruler of the universe. “Jesus is Lord.” “Jesus is the Son of God and the Savior of the World.” All men have sinned and face eternal judgment without Jesus Christ.” “The Bible is God’s inspired and inerrant Word.” “There is one way to the Father through Jesus Christ.” “There is a heaven and a hell.” “Jesus will return and bring final victory for his people and eternal glory to his name.” “We will spend an eternity enjoying the infinite perfections that are displayed in the beauty of God.”
No, we will not be silent. What we assert is what we are. So, we say with Luther, “Leave us free to make assertions; and to find in assertions our satisfaction and delight; and you may applaud your Skeptics and Academics- till Christ calls you too! The Holy Spirit is no Skeptic, and the things He has written in our hearts are not doubts or opinions, but assertions- surer and more certain than sense and life itself.”
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