Stephen J. Nichols (SN): October 31, 1517, is the day we mark as the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, so every year we celebrate Reformation Day on October 31. To help us celebrate, we have a special guest joining us—Dr. R.C. Sproul. Welcome back, Dr. Sproul.
R.C. Sproul (RC): Thank you, Dr. Nichols.
SN: Let’s start with the contemporary Bible study question. What does Reformation Day mean to you?
RC: The Scriptures make reference to what we could call a holy space or holy ground, but also sacred times—moments that define everything that would come after it. And when I think of Reformation Day, I think of that moment in history, and particularly in church history, when everything changed. This was the watershed movement—Luther’s writing the Ninety-Five Theses and tacking them up on the church door at the castle church in Wittenberg. And here we saw the recovery of the gospel. I enjoy celebrations. I enjoy birthdays, I enjoy the Fourth of the July, and I enjoy Thanksgiving Day. But these days all pale in significance compared to that day in history when the gospel was brought out of darkness and into the light with the Reformation. And so, in terms of our heritage as Christians, this is a time to celebrate.
SN: It really is. And these moments of celebration can help us remember what we’re celebrating and why we’re celebrating. And they can cause us sometimes, I think, in a healthy way, to look back to the past, and to understand a little bit better who we are and why those past events matter. One of the things that I find interesting about Luther is that after he posted the Ninety-Five Theses, he lived another twenty-eight years. That’s a long time. He had a long life after Reformation Day. Is there any moment in that time period after Reformation Day that stands out to you as having significance in the life of Luther?
RC: The next five years were critical as a result of his posting those Ninety-Five Theses. The theses, as you know, were not designed as a public proclamation, but as an invitation issued to the faculty of the University of Wittenberg to discuss the doctrine of indulgences, among other things. And Karl Barth made the observation that Luther, when he posted the theses, was like a blind man who climbed the stairs in a bell tower, lost his footing and thus began to fall. He reached out to grab something to save his life. And what he reached and grabbed was the bell rope. But a floodgate was opened. Soon there were debates at Leipzig and Augsburg and other places, and then ultimately Luther was brought to Worms in 1521 for the imperial diet called by the emperor, Charles V. At the Diet of Worms, of course, there was that moment when he was called to say revoco, “I recant.” The Hollywood version is that he stands up and gives his “here I stand” speech. The truth is that he stood there trembling, shaking, and he said, “Can I have another twenty-four hours?” Then he went back to his cell and penned one of the most moving prayers that I’ve ever read in my life. He was incredibly frightened, and he called out to God. But he only sensed the absence of God. And he said, “God where are you? Are you hiding? This cause is yours and I am yours; send help.” And then the next day, he came again before the diet. And when they said, “Do you recant?” he said, “I can’t say revoco. I can’t recant unless I am convinced by sacred Scripture or by evident reason. My conscience is held captive by the Word of God, and to act against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I can do no other, God help me.” What a moment in church history that was.
SN: Well, we have two great moments—Reformation Day and the “here I stand” moment. Thank you, Dr. Sproul.