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OUR MARTIN > Our Heritage



PART VI - OUR LUTHERAN HERITAGE

THE EMPEROR HAD NOT FORGOTTEN LUTHER

If you look at a map of the Holy Roman Empire in the sixteenth century, you can easily see why Charles V got involved in so many other matters besides deciding what to do about Luther. In addition to being king of Spain, Charles was emperor of a territory that included modern-day Austria, Germany, Czechoslovakia, Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg, and Switzerland -- as well as parts of France, Italy, and Poland. Not only were there many internal problems connected with ruling so large an empire, but this was a time of war. The Turks were swarming out of eastern Europe like a plague of locusts and were threatening to overrun the continent. Charles V was making every effort to keep his empire strong and united in order to hold back the Turks.

THE DIET AT AUGSBURG

When Charles V returned to Germany in 1530, he was at the height of his power. For the purpose of achieving some sort of settlement of the religious difficulties, he called for a diet to meet at Augsburg. The day after his arrival in Augsburg, there was a procession, ablaze with color as each elector marched in full ceremonial dress to the cathedral. Within the cathedral, the emperor and all the dignitaries knelt at the high altar -- all, that is, but two. The Saxon Elector John (successor of Frederick the Wise) and Philip of Hesse refused to submit to a form of worship they believed wrong.

The next day, the Emperor summoned the Lutheran princes -- among them John, Philip, and George, the Margrave of Brandenburg. He demanded that they stop Lutheran ministers from preaching in Augsburg. They refused, and the Margrave of Brandenburg stepped forward and declared, "Before I let anyone take from me the Word of God and ask me to deny my God, I will kneel and let him strike off my head."

Despite their outright defiance of his commands, the emperor gave the Lutheran princes an opportunity to present their case publicly. Luther could not be present to appear for them, since he was still technically an outlaw and had not been granted safe conduct to the meeting. But he stayed at a nearby castle of Coburg, studying the reports of the sessions and offering suggestions.

Although they did not have Luther himself, the Lutheran princes did have with them Luther's close friend Philip Melanchthon, a renowned scholar and a professor at Wittenberg. The princes, in anticipation of an opportunity to present their case, had been working for many months to draft a document explaining their position. Melanchthon did the actual writing of this document, which was called the Augsburg Confession.

It took two hours to read the Augsburg Confession to the emperor and the members of the diet on June 25. On the document were the signatures of five princes and the representatives of two free cities. Later, representatives of four other free cities added their signatures.

More negotiations followed, and more attempts to talk the Lutherans into giving up their stubborn insistence on their rights. Finally, realizing the futility of further discussion, the emperor resorted to force. He gave the signers until the following April to change their minds and forsake the heresy. If they refused there would be open warfare. For the emperor, the diet had been a failure.

However, the Diet of Augsburg was a success for the Lutherans. The believers in Luther's teachings had united and gained a common statement of their faith. The Augsburg Confession has become (along with the Small Catechism) the major statement of what the Lutheran church believes. June 26, 1530, can really be considered the day the Lutheran church came into its own. It had proved too strong to be either ignored or crushed. Soon afterwards, the emperor reluctantly granted the Lutherans freedom of worship.

LUTHER'S LATER YEARS

As the years went by, Luther continued to preach, teach and write. He still had his courage and his power with words. But many bouts with illness took their toll on both his body and spirit. At times he grew quite intolerant of his critics. He was quick at namecalling; he lashed out at his enemies with tongue and pen. There were times when he was depressed and downcast. Then Katie, his good wife, had to remind him to trust in his Lord.

Luther called himself "a child and a pupil" of the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ. Once he wrote, "Christ has made the children our teachers. I am chagrined that although I am ever so much a doctor, I still have to go to the same school with Hans and Magdalena (Luther's children)...."

Death came to Luther on February 1846. He had gone to Eisleben to help settle a legal quarrel. His arbitration was successful, and finally, on February 17, an agreement was signed. That night Luther complained of faintness and pressure around his heart. At 2 am his friends were roused with the news that Luther had taken a turn for the worse. One of them said to him, "Reverend father, will you stand steadfast by Christ and the doctrine you have preached?" The dying Luther whispered, "Yes."

Four days later, Luther was interred in the Castle Church of Wittenberg. On the door of this same church, twenty-nine years earlier, he had nailed his Ninety-five Theses. And although he was gone, the church that bore his name grew stronger daily as it dedicated itself to carrying on the work that he had begun.

LUTHER AND YOU

Today this church gladly bears the name of Luther. It does this because Luther made the church once more the church of Jesus Christ. We believe that Luther was right when he insisted that the Bible is the sole authority for all that is taught and believed in the Christian church.

As Lutherans, we do not believe that we must climb a ladder of good works, prayers, and sacrifices to reach God; nor do we believe that God loves us only when we are doing things to prove our loyalty, such as giving up candy for Lent. A man's Christian faith is not measured by how good he appears to be.

Instead, as Lutherans, we believe that we are Christians through faith in Jesus Christ. This faith keeps us aware of God's love for us. Even when we sin he still loves us. It's wonderful to have a God who cares, and to know that although he does not like what your are doing when you sin, he still likes you and sees all the possibilities of your becoming a new person in Christ. By faith, you know that he still wants you to be with him and follow him.

As a Lutheran, you see the things of this world as gifts of God's love to you. These things can be used selfishly. When they are misused this way, they become evil. On the other hand, they can be used in the service of God and fellowmen, in love. Then they are being used as God wants them to be used.

We don't worship Luther as a saint; he was far from perfect. No man but Christ was ever perfect. But we honor Luther and proudly call him "Our Martin" for his great contributions to the church. We are thankful that God used him to cleanse the church. We remember him because he called the church back to the Bible, particularly to the New Testament, where men can know the real truths of God in Christ.


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Peachtree Road Lutheran Church  •  3686 Peachtree Road NE    Atlanta, Georgia 30319