With the five hundredth anniversary of the Protestant Reformation approaching (October 31, 2017), I’ve been dipping into the history of the church and the life of Martin Luther, who unwittingly tipped the domino that started this revolution.
I learned that when he posted his ninety-five theses on the door of that famous church in Germany, he was merely posting his opinions (in Latin, the scholarly language) on the bulletin board of his university, hoping to begin a debate with his fellow theologians.
There are many literary references to Luther’s stubbornness and outspoken nature, but a comment from one of his contemporaries following a theological debate between Luther’s Augustinian order and the Dominicans struck me as revealing. One of the Dominican brothers, Martin Butzer, as quoted by Gordon Rupp (Rupp, E. Gordon. Luther’s progress to the Diet of Worms, 1521.NL: NP, 1951), had this to say:
[The Dominicans’] wiles were not able to move [Luther] an inch. His sweetness in answering is remarkable. His patience in listening is incomparable…His answers, brief, wise and drawn from Scriptures made his listeners his admirers.
Although often described at pugnacious in defense of his beliefs, Luther was a man who followed, at least in this instance, the guidance of Proverbs 15:1
A kind answer soothes angry feelings, but harsh words stir them up.- Proverbs 15:1 (CEV)
Perhaps it was his sweetness in answering his opponents and his patient listening, or his brief, wise, Biblical answers which allowed this one man to change the course of the Christian Church for centuries to come.
In today’s hostile, crude, and sometimes obscene public discourse between disagreeing factions of our society, how much impact can Christians of all denominations have by meeting this coarsening of culture with sweet replies and patient listening as we stand firm on God’s Word?