After Martin Luther published his Ninety-Five Theses, the Catholic Church excommunicated him. He was labeled a heretic, which carried with it lots of personal consequences for Luther. Four years later, Emperor Charles V, the most powerful man on the planet, requested he come and address his alleged heresies. Luther, of course, knew things would not likely end well for him. If the emperor agreed with the pope, he could be executed or imprisoned. At the very least, he could be socially and politically isolated even further.
On day one of the hearing, a collection of Luther’s writings were laid out on a table. Luther was asked whether they were, in fact, his writings, and he acknowledged they were. Then, he was immediately asked to recant every position he held that contradicted the doctrines of the Catholic Church.
On the one hand, he feared the judgment of Christ. Jesus said, “Whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father” (Mk 8:38). On the other hand, Luther felt his life was at stake, so he requested time to reflect on the matter, and the emperor gave him one day.
On day two of the hearing, Luther stood before the emperor and boldly spoke these words:
Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Holy Scriptures or by evident reason—for I believe neither pope nor councils alone, as it is clear that they have erred repeatedly and contradicted themselves—I consider myself convicted by the testimony of the Holy Scriptures, which is my basis; my conscience is captive to the Word of God. Thus I cannot and will not recant, because acting against one’s conscience is neither safe nor sound. Here I stand; I can do no other. God help me. Amen.
According to Proverbs, “The wicked flee when no one pursues, but the righteous are bold as a lion” (Pr 28:1). May we always be as bold as Luther when declaring Christ, his gospel, and his truth. May we never fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do (Lk 12:4). It is far better to fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell (Lk 12:5).