Special Feature: 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation
Following the Footsteps of
the Protestant Reformation (2)
On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed the Ninety-five Theses on the door of the Wittenberg Church, triggering the Protestant Reformation. This year marks the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Internally, it is the 10th anniversary of the publication of the History of Redemption series of Huisun Rev. Abraham Park, the founder of Pyungkang Cheil Presbyterian Church. This special year also marks the 60th anniversary of his ministry. The church organized a team to deeply explore through the history of the Reformation. This team traveled to Europe and visited several sites including Germany, Switzerland and Scotland for thirteen days, from August 21st to September 2nd. The purpose of this trip was to learn from the reformers such as Luther, John Calvin and John Knox, who are the root of today’s protestant churches. In particular, through this special special series, we wanted to share with the readers and review the reformative faith of Rev. Abraham Park through texts and photos. This will be a special four-part series. - Editor’s note
Redemptive History of God fulfilled through Luther
Luther, who publicly declared the Pope as the Antichrist and burned up the rescripts! He was not this kind of courageous reformer in the beginning. Luther obeyed the will of his father and became a law student and received his Master of Arts degree in Erfurt in 1505. On his way back from visiting his parents in Mansfeld, he experienced the "lightning incident." His friend who journeyed with him died after being struck by lightning and Luther fell from a horse and hurt his leg. Luther, seized with fear, made a vow, saying, "St. Anne, help me. I will become a monk." He thus encountered the first turning point of his life. This happened on July 2, 1505 and Luther entered the life of an Augustinian monk two weeks later. Although the monastery has now become a hotel and we cannot see the interior, the chapel and the room Luther trained in is open for visitors.
Luther was an exemplary student even in the strict monastic life. No self will, eating meager meals, rough clothing, all-night work, day labor, killing of the flesh, scorn due to poverty, humiliation of begging and discomfort of living in seclusion--these were only a part of the regulations the monks had to abide by. Luther, who was a first-year monk-in-training, devoted himself to vigil and prayer, even sleeping without a blanket from time to time to kill the flesh. Luther was finally ordained at the Dom St. Marien in Erfurt after the year of training on April 3, 1507. However, he fell into despair and became fearful because of the first mass and priestly duties that he thought would be easy.
His spiritual concerns such as these came with depression and other various diseases and the monastery would send out Luther when circumstances arose where monks needed to be sent to settle disputes in Rome. Luther visited Rome for the first time in his life in 1510. Just like the expression "left with an onion and instead came back with garlic", he saw the reality of the corruption and depravity there and fell into deeper despair. His teacher Staupitz, who saw this, encouraged him to go and teach the Bible at the University of Wittenberg.
"Luther, study the Bible in depth"
These were the redemptive historical words that brought about a great turning point in Luther's life. Luther first lectured on Psalms and moved on to teach Galatians and Romans. While he was lecturing on Psalms, he was greatly touched by the fact that Christ was abandoned in Psalms 22 and experienced a spiritual thrill by the verse which speaks about the righteousness of God in Romans. His conviction of salvation and spiritual conflict that couldn't be solved by countless confessions, fasting, or even walking up the Scala Santa on his knees. He was able to solve this problem not by his own works and achievement, but through the Word and the righteousness given by believing in God. This was the great discovery Luther made almost 1500 years after the Christian church was established. From this point on, Luther viewed everything in light of the Word. The Word had transformed Luther into a new person.
"I ... began to understand that the righteousness of God is that through which the righteous live by a gift of God, namely by faith… Here I felt as if I were entirely born again and had entered paradise itself through the gates that had been flung open."
These were the words of confession by Luther who realized the essence of salvation by the righteousness by faith (Romans 1:17). The first thing Rev. Huisun Abraham Park was enlightened with during his time of praying and studying the Bible at Mt. Jiri was also Romans 3:4,10. He found the light of salvation, the path to become righteous by understanding the falsehood and transgressions of men by the Word of God that states "...let God be found true, though every man be found a liar" (Rom 3:4) and "There is none righteous, not even one" (Rom 3:10). It is the same as the verses before and after Romans 1:17 that Luther understood. Looking at this, it is revealed to us that the redemptive history of God does not progress according to great powers of the world or their plans but through the understanding and proclamation of a single person who holds onto the Word of God and struggles to pray in all sincerity.
The footprints of Luther, a man of faith and action
Luther was not a reformist who stayed inside the chapel or campus walls. He viewed the world from a new perspective through his understanding of the Word of God and took immediate action. He discovered the iniquity of the doctrines and illegal sales of the indulgences by the Roman Vatican and posted the 95 Theses on the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church. With this sprouted the religious reformation that changed the entire history of Europe and mankind. The Vatican took action immediately and summoned Luther the following year at Heidelberg to defend his theology (1518.4.26). Here, Luther claimed falsehood in the teaching that people receive salvation by kind deeds, and that kind works can be added onto the work of Jesus. Where the Heidelberg Castle looks down on the Church of the Holy Spirit and the Neckar River in its stately glory is where Luther participated in his first public theological debate. Later on, this place turned into a heap of ruins due to the Thirty Year War. With the religious war between the reformation church and Catholic church that was sparked by Luther's religious reformation, the freedom of religion was given at last through the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. Luther's actions bore the fruit of blood 150 years later. Four months after this incident, Luther was summoned to Augsburg to withdraw his previous argument, but he adamantly refused to do so. Although he received fierce attacks from the theologian Eck during the third debate that took place in Leipzig in July 1519, he risked being burned at the stake, like Hus of Czech, and exposed the problems of Catholicism and the antichrist-like position of the pope. Luther slowly transfigured into a leader of reformation through these three debates. In 1520, with his first well-known work entitled, "To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation," he urged the Christian nobility, in German, to end the period of silence and resist against the unlawful leaders. Luther's work that urges the political powers to rise up for the reformation of religious power brought about the actions of the feudal lords who stood on his side. On October 10th of the same year, in his second book entitled, "The Babylonian Captivity of the Church," he criticized the non-biblical basis of the seven sacraments and claimed that true sacrament is only in baptism and communion. In "On Christian Liberty" which he wrote in November, Luther urged the Pope to cleanse the corruption in the church and revealed the identity of Christians as the lord of all creation, free and insubordinate to none. Luther was able to establish the frame of reformation theology based on the gospel of the "justification by faith" which he first discovered through the three public debates and three books he wrote during those three years.
The Diet of Worms and Confinement in Wartburg: Luther's Patmos Island
This time Luther moved first, burning the Pope's rescript and requesting King Charles V to call together a council. As a result, a public hearing was opened in April 1521 at Worms, Germany. Luther entered Worms on April 16 and defended his theology against Eck in front of a large cheering crowd. Luther was offered forgiveness if he admitted that he was contaminated by the heresy of Huss and if he acknowledged that his blasphemous claims against the church and the Christian empire were wrong. However, he firmly resisted.
"When our power comes in, God's power goes out, and when our power goes out, God's power comes in." "I neither can nor will retract anything… Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise; God help me!" With these statements, Luther declared boldly that he was standing on the path of reformation that would bring change to the world. This resulted in Luther being declared as an official heretic and outlaw by the church. This occurred on April 26, 1521 and the official consent was given on May 4th.
Being branded as an outlaw was equal to giving permission to kill Luther. Luther's supporter, Fredrich der Weise, sent his cavalry to kidnap Luther in disguise and then took him to Wartburg Castle, which Luther later called, "Patmos Island.” He lived there in disguise as a knight under the name Junker J?rg.
We visited the castle on Thursday, August 24th after visiting St. Augustine's Monastery. After walking up an incline and several flights of stairs for 20 minutes in the midday heat, we reached the Wartburg Castle, the place that protected Luther from the powers of the antichrist, and the place that was the cradled grace of God for the Germans, where the New Testament was translated into German after about a year of endurance. The desk and chair that Luther used is still in the room where he translated the New Testament Bible into German, all the while fighting against the devil and his loneliness that tormented him for 11 months. It was a place where we could feel the sweat he poured out, spending each of his days fearfully praying and translating the Bible in order to build the great weapon that would change the landscape of the reformation in the future. We visited Worms the next day on Friday, August 25. Although Luther was not at the international convention center to boldly proclaim, "Here I stand!” a large shoe and a statue of the religious reformation and its reformists in commemoration welcomed the tourists.
Later, Luther said the following to those who admired his achievements.
"I simply taught, preached, wrote God's Word: otherwise I did nothing. The Word of God did it all."
This confession of Luther’s is the most honest, biblical answer. What can we possibly do for the work of God's redemptive history? We can only obey and be used as tools in God's hand. Then God, the Word of God, will do the rest.
Luther's Return and the Spread of Religious Reformation
After his period of confinement in Wartburg, Luther returned to Wittenberg in March of 1522. The Vatican and Charles V's plans to get rid of Luther, who was like a thorn in their flesh, became more and more persistent. During this dangerous time, Luther continued to train younger students with his lectures and sermons, and he strived to spread the ideology of the reformation. With the opposition of the feudal lords who supported Luther and the invasion of the Turks, the Vatican and Charles V had no choice but to sign the peace agreement. In 1526, they called together a council in Speyer and established an agreement that allowed the freedom of religion, giving the feudal lords freedom to choose between Lutheranism and Catholicism. After 20 hard years, Luther's cries had bore fruit, opening the doors to the freedom of religion. However, as external circumstances changed, King Charles V cancelled the agreements established before the Second Diet of Speyer (April, 1529) and Luther protested against it, originating the word "Protestant." When negotiations with both parties that gathered (at the assembly in Augsburg the following year) broke through and war was about to break loose, Philipp of Hesse gathered and established a defense front line in Schmalkalden to rally the Protestant forces in 1531. With this, Schmalkalden became the center of meetings and conferences for the Protestant camp, from 1530 to 1545. In 1547, Charles V entered a war against the Protestants with his Spanish mercenaries and seized victory in the Battle of M?hlberg. However, Luther's ideology had already spread to the regions nearby and Denmark became a Lutheran nation in 1523 and Sweden in 1527, forming a great tide that could not be repressed even after his death. With this, another council was held in Augsburg in 1555 and the freedom to choose the religion of the feudal lord in his region was established. True religious freedom came after the fierce war between the Catholics and religious reformers for over 30 years in Europe. After establishing a peace agreement in Westphalia in 1648, the Catholics, Lutherans as well as the Calvinists were officially given the freedom of religion within the Holy Roman Empire, granting freedom for individuals to choose their own faith.
Luther's Domestic Life and Calling: "We are beggars"
In June 1525, Luther at age 42 married Katharina von Bora, a former nun who was 16 years younger than he and had six children. Luther, who dedicated his entire life in studying and researching the Bible, experienced a new life through his marriage. Therefore, he confessed that marriage is the greatest treasure after the Word of God and often called his wife his ribs and his lord. Luther entrusted all matters of the household to his wife and focused on spreading the Word of God by preaching at churches, lecturing in schools and eating and conversing with friends and students who came to his home until he was called up to heaven by God.
Luther left the following memo a few days before his death:
"Let nobody suppose that he has tasted the Holy scriptures sufficiently unless he has ruled over the churches with the prophets for a hundred years … We are beggars. That is true."
It is surprising, considering that those were the last words left by someone who is praised as a hero by Germany, even after 500 years. He had confessed to be a "sinner" and wrapped up his life as a "beggar." Rev. Huisun Abraham Park gave a sermon entitled "We are beggars" during the Sunday service for the religious reformation on October 27, 1991 and commemorated this ideology of Luther.
"Dear saints! We are better off in all aspects of life. God gave us our bodies. He gave us our minds, hearts, our everything. He gave us our wives as a gift. Our sons and daughters are gifts. He gifted us with our workplaces. He gifted us and allowed us to move up. The people below us who bow to us and obey us are also gifts of God. I pray in the name of the Lord that you will say, "I was a beggar, but am a beggar no longer, because God is the Lord. I am His child and have now become a rich man." With these words, march on towards the kingdom of heaven, living a worthy and bold life on this earth."
Five hundred years have passed, but truly reformists who meet God one-on-one and deeply meditate on the Word feel united in spirit and will. Luther was a man who trembled in his body and spirit to seek his confidence in salvation. The process of his troubles and efforts such as those solved by meeting the Word of God was a truly astounding work that changed not only Luther himself, but also the world. God opened the lid to the Word that was locked away for thousands of years through Luther, and prepared the techniques for printing through Gutenberg to bring him into the light. Huss foretold the birth of a swan 100 years before Luther, and God worked through a single individual who emptied himself of his own power and filled himself with the power of God. Within Luther's religious reformation, we can find the amazing work of redemptive history that flows without ceasing.