Martin Luther a King of Reform for the Ages

Article excerpt

More than a learned, eloquent, religious leader, he stood up to authority in the face of death threats. His nonviolent protests gave birth to mass social and political upheaval, and he's best remembered today for leading a momentous march and uttering a few immortal words during his greatest speech.

Oh yeah, and Martin Luther also provided a role model for his 20th century namesake - Martin Luther King Jr.

On any list of the millennium's most monumental leaders, "Luther usually hits about the No. 3 spot," notes Mark Loest, assistant director at the Concordia Historical Institute with The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod in St. Louis.

Born in 1483 into the family of a poor German miner, Luther shares traits with our nation's most adored civil rights leader. For starters, King and Luther were religious men above all.

"One of the things I think is key to understanding Martin Luther is he was very much a human being who didn't set out to be a reformer or revolutionary," notes the Rev. Paul Johns, pastor of the Lutheran Church of the Cross in Arlington Heights and a former director with the national church office.

Luther was a simple monk and studious priest who felt called to challenge the status quo of his Roman Catholic Church, and, in doing so, started the Reformation and created Protestantism. While Johns notes "a lot of people marched side by side" with Luther, the monk's controversial theses on the church and scripture led the pope to excommunicate him from the church.

Given the chance to recant his works, which were deemed heresy, or face a death sentence, Luther marched into the town of Worms in 1521 to face Emperor Charles V. Claiming he had written nothing that scripture could contradict, Luther declared, "Here I stand" and remained unmoved until concluding with the simple words, "I am finished. …