You are looking at the painting of a famous German Reformer named Martin Luther who declared boldly his conviction despite opposition. He was a former Benedictine Monk who chose to stand on the authority of God’s Word rather than man’s. His reason is not to rebel against the Roman Catholic Church but only to reform her doctrines. His desire is for the Church leaders to surrender once more to the authority of the Scripture.
Let me help you travel back in time to the days of ancient Pax Romana where the church in Rome was thriving. Many historians attest that Christians were severely persecuted during the time of the Roman emperors. They were either tortured and burned at the stake, bathe with tar then lighten up as human torch, inserted inside an empty tree trunk only to be sawn into two, or fed to several lions who have not eaten for weeks. However, things change in Rome starting AD 312 when Constantine became the emperor. The Christians were tolerated of their practices to worship their desired deity. For many years Christians enjoyed the peace and acceptance of Rome since Constantine’s conversion to Christianity. This also brought a number Christian leaders in Rome into prominent positions because of their close tie-up with the Roman emperors. The simple church in the West slowly transformed into a pompous institutionalized church giving rise to religious political and authoritative leaders. Among the five centers of Christianity, that is, Jerusalem, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Rome, the latter became prominent even surpassing the eastern church. The Roman church started incorporating a number of practices that have not been taught by the first century Christians. A number of traditions were incorporated like praying for dead (AD300), the veneration of angels, dead saints, and statues (AD 375), extreme unction (AD 526), purgatory (AD 593), kissing of the pope’s feet (AD 709), canonization of dead saints (AD 995), and many more to mention. Many of these unbiblical practices were already opposed by religious leaders from within their ranks like John Wycliffe (English) and Jan Huss (Czech) until such a time that a man like Martin Luther rose to prominence denouncing the practices of the Roman popes during the sixteenth century. It was in 1517, that Luther posted his famous ninety-five theses on the door of the All Saints Church in Wittenberg, Germany arguing against many things, including indulgences that use monies to bring the souls of people into heaven. Because of his bold stand, he was accused of heresy and rebellion by the leaders of Rome. In 1520, Luther was given a chance to recant in sixty days by Pope Leo X pledging his allegiance once more to the Church in Rome. When they summoned him in 1521 to the Imperial Diet of Worms in Germany, he faced the pope, the king, along with several church authorities. Imagine the fear and intimidation brought by that ecclesiastical tribunal. He was asked to renounce everything he has taught and wrote against the teachings of the One Holy Roman Catholic Apostolic Church. This is where his famous phrase was heard about personal conviction.
“Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason – I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other – my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.”
Prior to Martin Luther, the apostle Paul taught the believers in Rome about conviction. Although there are two understanding for the word conviction in the Bible. The first one gives us an idea of making the world (unbeliever) guilty while the other one refers basically to the belief system of a person. (See Jn. 16:8; 1 Thess. 1:5; Heb. 11:1) I am referring to the latter definition. The apostle Paul even urged us to be fully convinced about things, especially when we talked about what we need to believe in the Word of God. Many believers today are just comfortable borrowing the conviction or belief of other believers without understanding why they believe what they believed like success, relationship, values, discipleship, generosity, family, integrity, finances, church, health, drinking, salvation, God, and many others. We thank the Lord for gifted apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastoring-teachers or teaching-pastors for equipping the body of Christ around the world. But a believer should not leave his brain at the church door then let someone do the thinking for them. They must be convinced of what they believed as well because they were persuaded not only by the pastor who teaches the Word of God, but most especially the Holy Spirit who leads and guides them into all truth as they study the word of God.
The Christian reformation was not born out of some borrowed conviction, but by a personal study of the Scripture. Christian Reformers like Ulrich Zwingli, William Tyndale, Thomas Cranmer, and many others have died because of their conviction to stand on the authority of God’s word. Many of the things we held were carefully research and studied by individual believers in the past. It is our duty to also follow the same attitude that they did so we will not be ignorant and uneducated of what the Scripture says about many things. Discipleship is not simply about handing down our conviction to be your conviction resulting to a “borrowed” conviction. Discipleship is all about depositing the truth of God’s word in your heart through a spiritual leader’s persuasion developing into a study and understanding of the Scripture resulting to a strong conviction about doctrine and transformation. May we as believer also learn to say with Martin Luther his very words, “Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason” to deepen our conviction and relationship with God.
Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks. Acts 18:4, NIV1984
One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. Rom. 14:5, NIV1984
Study (labor, be diligent, work hard, do your best) to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. 2 Tim. 2:15, KJV