I just returned home from a week of preaching and learning in Germany. What an amazing country. With some of our good friends from Haus Des Herrn, Mannheim we were able to follow Luther’s steps and learn more about his life and legacy as we pray for a new reformation in Germany where about 1% of that country’s ~90 million people are evangelicals. We stayed at the monastery in Erfurt where he lived. We visited his house in Wittenberg and the Theses Door at Castle Church. We visited the Wartburg and saw the room where he translated the New Testament into German.
So today I share my top four lessons from the ministry of Luther and the spread of the Reformation as we think about our ministry today.
In the Vernacular
One of the greatest gifts of the Reformation was giving the Bible to the people in their own language. Luther unleashed God’s word by giving it to Germany in its own vernacular. He wrote and preached in common German and even drew cartoons to illustrate his message (there’s hope for Jonny Mo!). Through his catchy hymns even the illiterate were taught theology. As a university professor Luther was more than capable of communicating in Latin, but the Reformation spread like wildfire because it was in the language of the everyman. Luther made the Bible accessible, simple, and understandable.
In my opinion, the Reformation doesn’t happen without the Gutenberg press. The use of this brand new technology is what saw the spread of Luther’s writing faster and further than was previously imaginable. Within two weeks of posting the 95 Theses it was translated into German, printed and spread throughout Germany. While the church was debating and sending Papal Bulls, Luther was using cutting edge technology to communicate his ideas to the masses at such an incredible pace that his ideas were unstoppable.
Another reason the Reformation spread as it did was the sheer volume of Luther’s writing and preaching. In just the year 1528 he preached 195 sermons. He wrote two catechisms. He translated the New Testament into German in just 3 months. After completing the Old Testament, he continually revised his translation until the year of his death. His collected works span 55 volumes. He wrote constantly. The Reformation spread in part because Luther out-wrote, out-preached, and out-worked everyone else.
Turning Failure into Opportunity
When things didn’t seem to go his way, instead of shutting down, Luther saw opportunity. At the Diet of Worms in 1521 Luther was condemned as a heretic by the emperor. His life was at stake and there was a bounty on his head. To protect him, Prince Frederick staged a kidnapping and had Luther brought to Wartburg Castle to live in hiding. Tried and condemned, living in hiding with a bounty on his head, and in really poor health, Luther could have thrown in the towel and pouted. Instead, he turned this failure into opportunity. With nothing but time on his hands he took the next three months and translated the New Testament into German. God would change the course of history as his word was unleashed through Luther’s work locked away in that little room. What felt like failure was sovereignly arranged opportunity.
As I study Luther, he was a man with faults, to be sure. But I’m inspired by him to do all I can to unleash the gospel in my generation. I’m no Luther, but God’s word is still ready to run wild.