“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. (Hebrews 10:23, ESV)
Sunday, April 18, 2021, was the 500th anniversary of Luther’s stand before the imperial Diet in the town of Worms, Germany where he told Emperor Charles V:
“Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. I cannot do otherwise, here I stand, may God help me. Amen.”.
Resolution 4-09, adopted by the 2019 Convention of The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, designated April 18, 2021 as “Here I Stand Sunday.”
The Synod resolution said in part,
“Whereas Scripture gives us encouragement with these words: Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.
Therefore be it resolved that April 18, 2021, be declared “Here I Stand Sunday throughout The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, its districts, circuits, and congregations
And be it finally resolved that our church and people be encouraged to gather for worship celebrations, spend time in prayer, asking the Lord to continue to bless the proclamation of the Gospel.”
For me, this will be the third big 500th anniversary related to the Reformation.
The first was in 1983 at the 500th anniversary of Luther’s birth. I was on vicarage in Cincinnati and there was a huge gathering for Lutherans across the whole city at a convention center.
Then three and a half years ago, October 31, 1517, was the 500th anniversary of the posting of the 95 Theses. Our Missouri Synod theme for that event was “It’s still all about Jesus.” The gathering that our two Minnesota Districts of the Missouri Synod put on at Concordia University, St. Paul, was quite impressive and well-attended.
Many people made pilgrimages to the Luther sites in Germany in 2017.
There was also an impressive, record-breaking exhibit on Luther at the Minneapolis Institute of Art in Minneapolis in connection with the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.
To my knowledge this 500th anniversary is quite a bit more low key. There has been far less publicity about it. To be honest I would not have known about it if I had not read about it in the Lutheran Witness magazine.
But I think it is an anniversary worth noting. If Luther had not made his stand at the Diet of Worms would we have the Gospel any more? Would there even be a Lutheran church? Would we all still be Roman Catholic? Would the pope still be able to burn people at the stake?
A man by the name of Kasper Storm, arrived in Luther’s hometown of Wittenberg on March 26. He was sent by Emperor Charles V to give Luther safe conduct to the Diet of Worms.
Everywhere they stopped on their way to Worms it was clear that Luther enjoyed tremendous support across Germany. Since the posting of the 95 Theses in 1517, Luther had been quite busy. He wrote and published many well-known treatises, preached several times a week and taught at Wittenberg U.
When they got to Worms the bookstores were crammed with his writings. Crowds lined the streets to get a glimpse of him.
I always joke, “We Lutherans don’t have a pope but we have Martin Luther who is more famous and has been written about more than all the popes put together.”
Aleander, the papal representative in Worms, wrote to the pope: Nine tenths of the people are shouting “Luther” and the other tenth shouts “Down with Rome!”
Many people warned Luther not to go to Worms. They did not trust the emperor or the pope. Luther replied, “Even though there should be as many devils in Worms as shingles on the roofs, I would have leaped into their midst with joy.”
At his first hearing before the imperial court Luther appeared to be overwhelmed by all the pomp and pageantry of the imperial court. Despite all the fame, he was just a simple monk from a small town in Germany.
A table with 25 of his books was set up in the room. Luther was asked two questions.
Are these your books?
Do you recant or take back what you have written?
Luther’s lawyer insisted that the titles of the books be read. After the titles were read Luther acknowledged that the books were his. Then in answer to the second questions, “Do you recant?” Luther first pointed out that many of the books dealt with ordinary subjects about which there was no controversy.
As for the rest of the books about the controversial topics, he asked for more time to think about his answer. He was granted one day to think over his response.
The next day at his second appearance people noticed that Luther was much more confident. The notes that he wrote in preparation for this day are still available to us.
Luther was again asked if he recanted. He replied:
“Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. I cannot do otherwise, here I stand, may God help me. Amen.”
Once Luther gave his answer, the room erupted in chaos. Above the din of the princes and noblemen the group of Spaniards that had accompanied the emperor was heard to say, “To the fire with him!”
Eight days later Luther left Worms and went into hiding for ten months for his safety. Then he returned to Wittenberg and continued preaching the Gospel for another 25 years.
The emperor, who was a very devout and devoted Roman Catholic from Spain, soon issued the Edict of Worms. The Edict of Worms declared Luther to be an outlaw. (Vogelfrei is the actual German term.)
Anyone who encountered Luther could either kill him or turn him in to the emperor. Anyone who was found to be supportive of Luther was also condemned. All his writings were banned.
In addition, any future books against the Roman faith, Roman church, pope or scholastic theology were prohibited.
As one historian put it, “The edict was meant to crush all claims to the right of individual liberty of thought and conscience, the very cornerstone of modern Protestantism and of democracy.”
The rest, as they say, is history. Luther did survive the attempts of the pope and the emperor to crush him. His teachings live on today.
Purely by God’s grace we have been able to, as Hebrews 10:23 says, “hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.”
And we still have to take a stand. Luther’s stand at Worms was not a one-time deal. It was only the beginning. It has been repeated by just about every pastor who has embraced his teachings right down to today.
We have had to continue taking a stand for the Gospel because the Gospel is always under attack. Fortunately we have God’s Word firmly on our side:
I John 2:1-2: “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.  He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”
Romans 1:16: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”
Romans 3:23–24: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,  and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”
Our job is not to come up with new teachings or doctrines but simply to hold on to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the only message that brings us sinners hope for eternal life in heaven.
How many more 500th Reformation anniversaries will there be? I not sure I’ll make it to the 500th anniversary of Luther’s death in 2046.
Fortunately we don’t have ponder where we would be today if Luther had not taken his stand at Worms. He did stand up to the pope and the emperor and we still have the Gospel. May God continue to help us take our stand on the same Gospel.
Materials from: lcms.org/here-i-stand-sunday
Luther and His Times, E. G. Schwiebert, Concordia, St. Louis, 1950.