Is the pastor of your church a young foolish leader? Does that frustrate you? Maybe you are older. Maybe you are wiser. Does that make you secretly despise young foolish leaders? People who really think they can face any problem and keep advancing forward.
Martin Luther spoke into the “young foolish leader” phase as a 57 year old man. First, a little bit of back story to appreciate Luther.
Martin Luther was born in 1483. At the age of 34 he confidently nailed 95 theses to the castle doors in Wittenberg, Germany. Luther was outraged at the practices of the institutional church of his day. His greatest frustration culminated with the practice of indulgences.
Here’s how indulgences worked. Would you like to have your grandmother expedited through Purgatory? She’s been suffering in Purgatory for a little while but will probably be there for several thousand more years of purging before entering heaven. If you purchase an indulgence, however, your granny will stop gnashing her teeth and the church leadership will ensure her time is sped up.
Martin Luther despised indulgences. At the age of 34 he refused to remain silent. His 95 complaints were meant to be an internal discussion trying to reform the church of his day. Complaint #82 captures the essence of Luther’s angst:
Why does not the pope liberate everyone from purgatory for the sake of love (a most holy thing) and because of the supreme necessity of their souls? This would be morally the best of all reasons. Meanwhile he redeems innumerable souls for money, a most perishable thing, with which to build St. Peter’s church, a very minor purpose.
Luther was too young and foolish to keep his mouth shut. If the pope was powerful enough to free someone from Purgatory why does he need money? Out of love shouldn’t he just free everyone so they can worship God in heaven? Luther had visited Rome and he knew they were trying to raise $2 billion to build St. Peter’s Basilica. The money was raised for a building project. Yet heaven is forever, wouldn’t the pope choose the eternal over the temporary? Luther was too young and foolish to keep his mouth shut.
At the age of 57, 23 years later, Martin Luther was having dinner with his family and students. On this day in 1540 he reflected on those crazy years in his mid-30’s. He specifically reflected on his time at the Diet of Worms. Luther’s students loved hearing all the dinner table side stories. They would secretly go back home after dinner and write down all the funny, strange and profound things Luther mentioned at the dinner table. These have become known as “Table Talks.” Hundreds of them survive to this day.
Before I share Luther’s story over dinner in 1540 you need to have a little bit of background about the Diet of Worms. Luther’s writings were grabbed by friends and unknowingly the Printing Press spread his 95 theses all over the world. His ideas were a spark getting ready to light the whole world on fire. Luther, the German monk, was summoned to the town of Worms in Germany. The institutional church had expected to get this young monk to recant of all his writings.
Luther was brought into a room full of church officials looking over all his writings on a table. They simply asked Luther if these were his writings. He said yes. Now was the golden moment. The leaders would tell Luther to recant. He would recant under the pressure of his leaders. Word would quickly spread that Luther had recanted of all his writings. The uprising would be over and life would go back to normal. If Luther didn’t recant, however, he would simply be burned at the stake.
The Diet of Worms did not go as the leaders planned. Luther refused to recant of all his writings. His writings were full of quoted Scripture. He argued that he couldn’t just recant of all his writings carte blanche because he would inadvertently be recanting of all the Scripture mentioned in his writings. Luther required the leaders to show him all the areas he was wrong and then he would consider if he should recant of each individual idea. The leaders refused, they wanted him to recant of everything in his books. Luther, the young foolish punk leader, refused saying:
Unless I can be instructed and convinced with evidence from the Holy Scriptures or with open, clear, and distinct grounds and reasoning – and my conscience is captive to the Word of God – then I cannot and will not recant, because it is neither safe nor wise to act against conscience. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me! Amen.
Luther, miraculously, wasn’t burned at the stake. He prepared himself that he would die that day in Worms. He even wrote out his will in advance. Luther, however, was unknowingly kidnapped by his benefactor before he could be killed. Friedrich the Wise hid him away in a castle tower allowing Luther to lead the Reformation with paper and ink.
Alright, that’s enough background. Let’s go back to Luther’s dinner table and the quote that sparked this whole post. As a 57 year old man looking back he said:
When I approached Worms, and was not far from there, Spalatin sent a messenger to me with a warning from Friedrich the Wise, who was already there, that I should not come there and that I would be in great danger. But I answered the messenger, “If there were as many devils in Worms as chimneys on the roofs, I would nevertheless come there.” Because I was not alarmed, I was not afraid. God can certainly make one so insensitive to danger. I don’t know if I would be that foolish today. (table talk 5342b.)
Did you catch the last sentence. Knowing how mightily God used Luther in his foolish 30’s to re-awaken a world to faith by Jesus alone Luther is not sure he would be so foolish today, as a 57 year-old man.
Keep your eyes peeled for the next young foolish leader. He might be holding 95 theses in his hands ready to be used by God to turn the world upside-down. He’s young and foolish enough to actually give it a shot.