O LORD, IS IT HAPPENING TO US
Thanks to my older brother, David, and his wife, Eula, I was gifted with a book I didn’t think I’d ever get to read. It is the latest biography of Reformer Martin Luther by Eric Metaxas. Having stood in the very study in Wittenberg, Germany where Luther wrote his 95 Theses and looked at the Castle Church door where they ended up being posted, Luther’s story is very meaningful. Also, just some 26 km away is the sleepy village of Seyda with a church that has Luther’s signature in the visitors’ book. And with my paternal grandfather, uncle, and cousin having been Lutheran ministers, it brings his story close to home.
In this book, I found an incident that really spoke to me graphically because of how it may apply to us today. Luther was, what we would call today, a stickler for detail. When he decided to become an Augustinian monk, he left no vow unsaid, no sin unconfessed, no waking minute of the day left idol in his effort to fill every second with some prayer, reading, or thought about what a terrible sinner he was in the eyes of a pure and mighty Judge in heaven. For instance, Luther was awakened by a bell at 2:00 a.m. And after making the sign of the cross would quickly put on his white robe and hustled out of his cell to the chapel. There he prayed at the high altar and took his place in a choir stall to sing and pray various hymns and psalms for forty-five minutes, at the end of which they prayed the “Save us, O Queen” to Mary. After this, they would sing the “Ave Maria” and repeat the “Our Father” before leaving seven hours later for breakfast. His superior at the monastery decided to give Luther an opportunity to let the fire of his dedication and commitment to holiness find an outlet. There had arisen a debate about whether or not rules for monks in the Augustinian monastery should be more relaxed or should they remain strictly observant.
This debate was to be held in Rome. So Luther’s superior sent him there to defend keeping the strict rules for all Augustinian monks. So off to Rome he and another monk went on foot. It was an 800 mile trip through the Alps in southern Germany and northern Italy. Unfortunately, the trek began in November 1510. Finally, at the end of a snowy and cold December, Luther’s heart began to beat faster as he neared the spot where he would lay eyes on the Eternal City for the first time in his life. The City on Seven Hills. The city where untold thousands of believers were murdered and martyred for their faith in Christ. The city where the bones of Peter and Paul were supposedly buried. Luther threw himself on the cold ground and cried out, “Greetings, O holy Rome, truly holy because of the holy martyrs, dripping with their blood.”
Luther could hardly wait to walk through the gates of this fabulous city to see the glories of the Caesars displayed in its architecture and monuments. To lay eyes on the magnificent Basilica of St. Peter where his holiness the Pope sat in splendor. He wanted to see a piece of the original burning bush that Moses beheld in the wilderness; one of the thirty pieces of silver that Judas was paid to betray his Lord Jesus, and other various artifacts from the Holy Land. He longed to say Mass at St. John Lateran church because it was stipulated that in doing so he would secure his own mother’s salvation and escape from Purgatory. However, he was not allowed to do so he climbed the famous Scala Santa (Holy Stairs) on his knees, repeating the “Our Father” on each of the 28 steps that were reported to be the stairs our Lord ascended to Pilate’s palace in Jerusalem to stand trial.
But then came the shock of his life. He was astonished by the incompetence and cynicism of many of the priests there. They showed no emotion as they said the Mass as quickly as they could, uttering the words in Latin so unintelligible that no one could understand what they said. Their cavalier attitude toward this holiest of privileges was a horror to behold. It was the perfect picture of a “dead religion” of “dead works” that had lost all meaning. The Mass was to take no less than twelve minutes, but they were through in nine. They even joked about the transubstantiation of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. At one meal, Luther heard them laughingly say that at Mass that day they had irreverently said: “Bread thou art and bread thou shalt remain, wine thou art and wine thou shalt remain.” Their jest and disrespect for all that was holy broke his heart. Here was the Holy City that he expected to be a shining light to a dark world, filled with purity and reverence to the Lord God. But it had disintegrated into doing things for God as fast as they could so they could get to the things they wanted to do. No one even understood the doctrine of sanctification and holiness, let alone knew how to practice it. It had become a form of entertainment instead of a sacred moment in the presence of God
What a terrible disaster it would be, if what happened to Luther in Rome, would repeat itself today for those who go to what they have been told is a church that stands for the preaching of God’s Holy Word, the reverence that should proceed any opening worship service in His honor, the power of prayer being displayed with signs and wonders, and the people of God standing and living in holiness to His glory. Oh God may it never happen in those churches that our forefathers struggled with blood, sweat, and tears to build and where souls were transformed by the power of the Spirit. For only those who endure unto the end shall be saved. This was the spark that caused Luther to call for a Reformation. Perhaps it may be time now for God’s children to call for Revival. – Dr. Robert R Seyda