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               The Reformation Grows

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The Spreading Reform

During his exile at Wartburg Castle, things with the emperor cooled down a bit. The emperor had bigger problems to attend to (such as the Muslims invading Europe) and consequently, he could not have his troops go looking for Luther and his supporters right away. Luther returned to Wittenberg and implemented a number of reforms. These reforms were not easy. There was much conflict even among Luther's followers. Some wanted to go to a radical extreme and throw away everything associated with the Roman Catholic Church including vestments, statues, and songs. Luther felt much of this could be retained and he worked hard and long to restrain them. He felt the reforms should be implemented slowly and with the persuasion of the Gospel, not by arms or force. But, Luther had moments of peace, too. He a married a spunky and supportive nun by the name of Katie von Bora and had a loving family that brought him much joy and happiness. He delighted in having students and friends over for dinner, and he had lively conversations with them which are recorded in a set of writings called "Table Talks."

The Peasants' Revolt & Writings On the Jews

Luther had two very unfortunate moments in his career which are now widely recognized as major blunders. One was his stand during the Peasants' Revolt. In the early 1520s, a large number of peasants revolted against their rulers over a set of grievances. Many were legitimate complaints which Luther himself supported and championed. However, he was so concerned about the lawless and violence which emerged that he urged the princes to use their swords (force) to put the rebellion down. This they did with excessive relish killing many. Luther himself was appalled by the slaughter of peasants which resulted and grieved his personally role in the whole incident greatly. The other was his writings on the Jews. At first (in sharp contrast to the mainstream culture of his time), Luther made friendly overtures to the Jews seeing them as the people of the promise, brothers and sisters of Christ himself, and a target for Gospel witness. But, when most Jews did not respond to the Gospel as he expected, he grew quite bitter and wrote harshly about how their homes should be burned and how they should be expelled from the land. In saying this, he was echoing a common sentiment of many of his contemporaries. Centuries later the Nazis used Luther's writings to help bolster their cause in legitimizing the Holocaust and their horrendous extermination program. Most Lutherans today (including those of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America [ELCA] of which Emmanuel Lutheran Church, Elyria, Ohio is a part) have issued public statements unequivocally repudiating Luther's writings on the Jews. The ELCA's declaration may be found by following this link. The modern citizens of Wittenberg have placed a memorial to the Holocaust just outside the city church where Luther preached to the townspeople. It shows four flat metal plates attempting to cover up something ugly (the Holocaust), but it cannot be covered up and its ugliness keeps bubbling up as a permanent reminder of the horror of that event. And yet, somehow it is also all crossed and covered by the cross of Jesus.

Others Take the Lead

Because Luther was wanted by both the emperor and the pope his travels were extremely limited. After 1525, more and more the reform movement was taken over and extended by others. A large role was played by Luther's university colleague, Philip Melanchthon, the three successive princes of electoral Saxony (Frederick the Wise, John the Steadfast, and John Frederick), and Luther's close friend, Lukas Cranach (an artist who painted what Luther preached). In Wittenberg, over 6,000 students were trained as pastors under Luther and Melanchthon and placed throughout receptive areas in Germany and beyond. Other reformers influenced by, and yet, independent of Luther emerged, such as Ulrich Zwingli in Switzerland and John Calvin in France/Geneva.

The Augsburg Confession

Most importantly, the growing reform was adopted by a number of princes and independent cities. The followers of Luther (or, “Lutherans” as they were derisively called by their opponents) were given one more opportunity to plead their case before Emperor Charles V. This they did at another Diet (meeting of princes) at Augsburg, Germany in 1530 through a document called the Augsburg Confession. This “confession” is not an apology for sin. Rather, it is a positive statement of faith much like a creed. The text was authored by Luther's colleague, Philip Melanchthon, but is was signed by a number of princes and the councils of two cities. This document is extremely important for two reasons. First, it clearly states the Lutherans' fervent desire, not to break away from the church, but to reform the church. And not everywhere, but only in their own territories. They were just trying to be “good Catholics.” And so, the first two-thirds of the document affirms foundational and traditional Christian teaching while the last one-third specifically refers to a number of abuses that had occurred in the church over the years and an explanation of the Lutherans attempt to change them. The other reason this document is so significant is because it demonstrates how far significant people in power would go to “own” the Lutheran movement. This was not just about one man, Luther, anymore. In fact, Luther was not even present in Augsburg, because it was too dangerous for him to come. Rather, other non-academic types stepped in. Leading lay people and princes were willing to put their lives upon the line for the sake of this understanding of the Gospel, too. Consequently, the Augsburg Confession has become the single, most important document for declaring who Lutherans are.

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