A few years ago we were celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the door of the town church in Wittenberg, Germany. His intent was to have his students discuss, based upon scripture, some questionable practices of the church of his day. However, the Theses were hand-copied – and then, with the help of Guttenberg’s recently developed printing press, additional copies quickly spread throughout Germany and many other countries. The Reformation had begun!
Three and a half years later on April 18, 1521, something happened that changed human history. Many think that it was the second most important trial in human history (second only to the trial of Jesus). Martin Luther was called to renounce and recant his writings which spoke against some of the practices of the Roman Catholic Church. However, Martin Luther stood his ground and stated, “I cannot and I will not recant. Here I stand.”
Modern historians have described it as the trial that led to the birth of the modern world. Many credit his courage and his writings for influencing great changes in the course of human history for the last 500 years, including the concepts of human rights and civil rights, the effort to teach girls to read, the writing of the Bill of Rights, the end of slavery across the British Empire and eventually the Abolitionist movement in the USA.
In 1934, Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta sent their senior pastor, the Rev. Michael King to Berlin for a Baptist World Alliance meeting. While in Berlin, Pastor King witnessed the beginnings of Nazi Germany - Adolf Hitler had become chancellor the year before. The Baptist conference responded to what they saw happening as they issued this statement:
"This Congress deplores and condemns as a violation of the law of God the Heavenly Father, all racial animosity, and every form of oppression or unfair discrimination toward the Jews, toward colored people, or toward subject races in any part of the world."
Although the meeting was in Berlin, Rev. Michael King toured much of Germany, the country that is the birthplace of Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation. When he returned to Atlanta, the senior King decided to change his name, and his son's, from Michael King to Martin Luther King and Martin Luther King, Jr., after the German Protestant leader.
So, as we remember the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s trial at the Diet of Worms in Erfurt, may we rejoice in the progress which has been made, and commit ourselves to further progress in the field of human and civil rights in accordance with God’s Word.