- He noticed that false doctrine was being taught, tolerated and promoted in his church. It manifested itself to a large degree in the public worship services.
- Without individually sitting down with Johann Tetzel, or with all the priests who were publicly teaching and practicing these things, or with the pope or his advisors, he publicly posted his 95 Theses identifying the errors he saw so that they could be debated and discussed.
- His publicly posted 95 Theses were given even wider dissemination by being translated, copied and published.
- He was told by the pope’s representatives that he was in the wrong and had to retract his statements, but they refused to actually debate the doctrine with him or show him from Scripture where he had erred.
- He continued to publish tracts and books identifying the errors in his church and proclaiming the Gospel of the grace of God, who freely imputes the righteousness of Christ, not to the one who works for his own righteousness, but to the one who believes in Christ. All the while, Luther insisted and proved that his doctrine was truly in line with historic Christianity, whereas it was the pope who had introduced and tolerated innovations in the church.
- The leadership in his church continued to tell him he was wrong without sitting down with him in love to show him from Scripture how the pope’s doctrine was actually in line with Scripture. One of the biggest crimes he was accused of was failure to trust those who were in charge of supervising doctrine and practice in the churches.
- He was further warned and threatened. The pope was at least kind enough to send him a letter (Exsurge, Domine) warning him that he had sixty days to recant or be excommunicated. But Luther burned the letter and was then sent another letter (Decet Romanum Pontificem) informing him that he had been excommunicated on the basis of public statements he had written daring to question the pope’s authority and doctrine, and daring to assert that man is justified before God by faith alone.
- After this, he was given another chance to defend himself (call it an “appeals” process). But it turned out that the “appeals committee” wasn’t interested at all in hearing, addressing or evaluating Luther’s doctrine and comparing it to the pope’s doctrine in light of Scripture; nor were they interested in evaluating whether or not the pope had followed Scripture in excommunicating Luther. They simply informed him that he was not authorized to publicly question the pope and insisted that he must recant.
- Of course, he could not, because still no one had shown him from Scripture or plain reason where he had erred, and his conscience was bound by the Word of God.
- Luther was declared an outlaw, and those who showed public support for him were also threatened with their lives and livelihoods. The message was clear: doctrine isn’t as important as maintaining the papal structure. Doctrine is what the pope says it is, and as long as he has some scholars and a few historical writings to back him up, no one may dare to question the pope’s authority or decision. He is, after all, appointed by God.
- Thankfully and by the grace of God, godly men, at great risk to their persons, stood behind Luther and his pious doctrine, not for the sake of personal gain or out of arrogance or a mean or divisive spirit, but out of Spirit-given conviction of the Truth. And though they were persecuted and suffered greatly for their confession, the Gospel rang out throughout the world as a result of their steadfast witness. Soli Deo Gloria!
How does the saying go? “History repeats itself.” I wonder how many times in history the above scenario has played itself out.
- If God had not been on our side
And had not come to aid us,
The foes with all their pow’r and pride
Would surely have dismayed us,
For we, his flock, would have to fear
The threat of men, both far and near,
Who rise in might against us.
Their furious wrath, did God permit,
Would surely have consumed us
And as a deep and yawning pit
With life and limb entombed us.
Like men o’er whom dark waters roll
Their wrath would have engulfed our soul
And, like a flood, o’erwhelmed us.
Blest be the Lord, who foiled their threat
That they could not devour us.
Our souls, like birds, escaped their net;
They could not overpow'r us.
The snare is broken -- we are free!
Our help is ever, Lord in Thee,
Who madest earth and heaven. (TLH: 267)