Why Martin Luther is still relevant today

Isaac Martin, Political Contributor

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6Yesterday marked an important anniversary in western history. 500 years ago on Oct. 31, 1517, one professor in Medieval Europe started a discussion at his home university. Because he refused to be bludgeoned into changing his convictions, the trouble-making scholar was forced to assume a false identity and live the life of a secluded exile for fear of his life.

The man: Martin Luther. His convictions? We know his radical act as the 95 Theses.

No shortage of controversy has swirled around Luther though he has been dead for over 400 years. Nevertheless, it is fitting to remember his life today and in our era of hyper-sensitive politics, we can gain greater perspective for a brighter tomorrow by examining him.

Though he is better known as an Augustinian monk, Luther also held a doctorate and taught at the university of Wittenberg. Basically, his contention in the 95 Theses was that everyone stands as guilty convicts before God. No amount of good deeds we do could ever change our status.

Luther’s contention (and traditional Christianity’s) was that only Jesus can can put someone in good stead with God; this was done when he took all the punishment that you and I deserve. This message irked those in power to such a degree that they hunted after Luther, forcing him to disguise himself as a knight named Junker Jörg and live in a friend’s castle for a year.

In Luther’s day, free speech was about as common as an African swallow: If you taught contrary to the state supported church, the state could punish you as a heretic.

Today, a similar hostility toward free speech has cropped up across our country. This gradual antagonism is perhaps epitomized in the Supreme Court. Over the past 50 years, it has grown increasingly cold toward free speech, effectively banning certain displays of historical documents, severely infringing upon the freedom of expression of large segments of America, and even suppressing honest intellectual inquiry within public schools. All these actions were done to enforce a “Separation of Church and State” under an incomplete understanding of Luther’s era.

In his day, the state often acted the part of “Big Brother” to the church, meddling in its affairs. One could only go to the state sanctioned church, attendance to that Church was often compulsory, and the government frequently executed those whose convictions differed from that of the state-approved church (think Spanish Inquisition).

That’s why Luther had to duck after he refused to recant at the Diet of Worms — he hadn’t  just disagreed with the catholic church, he had defied the Holy Roman Empire. This is why the First Amendment and Jefferson’s oft mis-quoted letter were written: to ensure one’s conscience could be protected against “Big Brother.”

If there is one thing that we may learn from Luther, than there are really two things to learn from the intrepid friar. First, stand for what you know to be the truth though the entire world oppose you. The second lesson is similar — we ought to beware the element in us and our leaders that shouts down those who see differently than us.

If we may learn these two lessons from Luther, walking in His steps, the 21st century reformation may be just around the corner.

Questions? Comments about Luther or his beliefs? The author would love to hear from you at [email protected]!