REFORMATION BIBLE COLLEGE
LETTER TO A FRIEND
My dearest Edward,
I wish to write to you concerning Martin Luther, the Augustinian monk who is turning the world upside down. Since you are far away, I felt it best to inform you of all that has transpired.
As you know, I began studying under Luther at Wittenberg University this past year, upon hearing all the commotion and excitement he began stirring with his ninety-five theses. For the poor commoners like me, his words were making a lot of sense. The atmosphere has been dire and solemn as long as I can remember- the fear of eternal damnation always looming, the tears cried for loved ones in purgatory, and the lack of money to get them into heaven. Every coin seems to go to the Church, and their corruption, much thanks to Luther and his distribution of his ninety-five theses on paper, has become known on a far-reaching plain. I had always believed my mother to be one who truly sought the Lord and desired to obey Him with her life. Then I was told by that monstrous John Tetzel, the Dominican monk, that her sins were too great for her to enter heaven, and a heavy indulgence would have to be paid if I ever wished to see her there! He even had a little jingle that he repeated as he made his collections: “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.”
Not knowing any better, I had saved most all my earnings, half-starving my wife and children, in order to ensure the salvation of my mother. The day I went to pay was the day I first heard of Martin Luther’s message. Edward, what good news it was! One of his pupils was telling me how, in the book of Romans, we are justified by faith alone, and that this faith is a free gift that God gives to us! Faith is accounted to us as righteousness. The glorious truth is that God gives to us what we have been striving, our whole lives, to earn by our own righteousness. This righteousness does not come by works, for we could never obtain it, but by simple faith in the work of Jesus Christ dying for our sins. It was this truth, I was told, that had drastically changed Martin Luther’s life, and was changing so many others.
I was skeptical. Though many humanists and nationalists were bemoaning the scandals and corruption of the church, and particularly Pope Leo, I found Luther’s message too good to be true. My parents, and their parents, and as far back as I could remember, understood the need for penance, for confession, and now for paying indulgences. Perchance it was the devil deceiving me, I cannot be sure, but I did not believe what I was being told, first by this pupil of Luther’s, soon by many others. I had to know firsthand for myself. So, I became a monk, gained access to the Scriptures, and studied under Luther himself.
Luther was not quite what I expected. His build was squat, and his demeanor could range from quiet and calm to enraged and brash- he often expressed his passion crudely! Nonetheless, he proved to be my best teacher, well versed in Scripture and lively in his delivery. I also saw in Luther a very holy man. This was not about showmanship for him, or notoriety- this was about obedience to the Word of God, and justice. Gradually, my skepticism gave way to belief. As I studied the Scriptures, I could not deny the truth of Luther’s teaching. Then, one evening, it hit me with full force. The conviction of the Spirit led me to see the beauty of the cross, the free offer of salvation by faith alone, and not by my exercising faith and thus earning God’s favor, but a faith that itself was a gift! Quickly I took the savings I had for indulgences and spent it for feeding and clothing my family. We had a great feast that evening as I explained to them all that I had been learning. I told them how I was persuaded, and then they too were persuaded! It was as if a great encumbrance had been removed from my entire family; the milieu of sorrow, the vapid, hollow, humdrum monotony of life, the sickly, death-pale hue of that ghastly burden of freeing my mother was forever gone!
Soon, I began to realize the danger Luther was in. His theses challenged the integrity of the Church, especially in relation to indulgences, and they would have none of it. Of Pope Leo Luther said, “he is richer than Croesus, he would do better to sell St. Peters and give the money to the poor people,” then on the other side he saw the danger of indulgences to those of us having to pay them, saying, “indulgences are most pernicious because they induce complacency and thereby imperil salvation.” Going after the Pope’s purse and questioning his righteousness would not bode well for him.
Fortunately for Luther, his message is sticking. While some disagree with him, most of the commoners are in agreement, and even some in authority in the church are persuaded of his theology. The time is ripe for revolution, for upheaval, but the Pope and his ilk are doing the best to thwart it. First the Pope sent Cardinal Cajetan to call Luther to recant in Augsburg at The Diet of the Empire. Luther wished to dialogue about his teachings, but the Cardinal refused. Thank God, Luther escaped under the cover of night, returning to Wittenberg and appealing to the general council.
That was a tremulous time, but it showed us something dear Edward. It showed us that Luther was sticking to his convictions, even if it would cost him his life. What a man of prayer he must be! His courage emboldens his followers, including myself, to become more vocal, more boisterous, and to spread this good news to others. Some of the pupils and I made it a habit to pray for Luther. As it turned out, he would need it.
The political situation here is complicated, but suffice to say this much- Luther has a great ally in Frederick the Wise, Elector of Saxony, lord of Wittenberg. A man who values truth and justice, he has chosen to protect Luther. Not to mention, he founded Wittenberg College, and many of the professors there have influenced Frederick, telling him that Luther is no heretic at all. The Pope sought Frederick for emperor, for political reasons, and so attempted to flatter him and Luther. A brief truce was formed, but was soon broken. These are unstable days, tumultuous times indeed Edward! Soon after an Ingolstadt professor named John Eck debated Luther, using cunning to get Luther to say that Huss was wrongfully burnt at the stake, and that a Christian with support of Scripture has more authority than all the popes without Scriptural support.
Which leads us to the present predicament. Our champion Luther along with support from the likes of myself have been stirring up quite a reaction in Germany, yea, even beyond its borders. While we have garnered support, the Pope has issued a bull, the Exsurge Domine, and declared that all of Luther’s books are to be burned. So what are we doing? Ha, we are burning Luther’s opponent’s books instead! Luther’s example has lead us to greater boldness, but I must confess that fear wells up inside me. I am afraid of the persecution, of the possibility of being put to death for being a heretic.
Presently, it is the eve of the Diet of Worms commencement. It is hear that Luther must make his stand, for he has been called by the emperor to recant of his writings, or else be branded a heretic and perish. Whatever the outcome, whether he live or die, I and his fellow followers have vowed to continue to proclaim the pure, unadulterated gospel to the masses, free of charge. I ask for your prayers brother, during this most difficult, yet most exciting time. Pray for Luther, pray for me and my family, that the sovereign God would do what is best.
May the Lord bless you and keep you safe,
Your best friend and brother in Christ.
Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity: The Early Church to the Present Day, Prince Press ed. (Peabody: Prince Press, 1999), 16
Cassian Harrison, “About Martin Luther,” PBS, http://www.pbs.org/empires/martinluther/about_driv.html (accessed November 16, 2011).
Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity: The Early Church to the Present Day, Prince Press ed. (Peabody: Prince Press, 1999), 19-20
 Ibid. 22
 Ibid. 14-15
 Cassian Harrison, “About Martin Luther,” PBS, http://www.pbs.org/empires/martinluther/about_driv.html (accessed November 16, 2011).
 Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity: The Early Church to the Present Day, Prince Press ed. (Peabody: Prince Press, 1999), 23
Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity: The Early Church to the Present Day, Prince Press ed. (Peabody: Prince Press, 1999), 24
 Ibid. 26
Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity: The Early Church to the Present Day, Prince Press ed. (Peabody: Prince Press, 1999), 27