As we trace the Reformation from Germany through England—we must note that something explosive happened in Worms in 1521 when Luther took his bold stand at the Diet of Worms. It resulted in a German Bible which influenced Tyndale to translate an English Bible. Without those two Bibles, we would still be in the darkness that covered the world as a result of the tyranny of the Roman Catholic Church. As we consider the importance of what happened 500 years ago, we must recognize that the protest of the Reformation was launched into warp speed at the Diet of Worms. May the Lord be pleased to raise up many men who refuse to sell out to evangelical pressures of the day.
When did the Protestant Reformation begin? Some people point back to October 31 of 1517 when Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the Castle church door in Wittenberg. Others point to the writings and bold stand of John Wycliffe. Still others point to Jan Hus who was martyred for his faith on July 6th 1415 after being condemned as a heretic by the Roman Catholic Church at the Council of Constance. Hus’ last words to his executioners stated that they could burn the goose (his surname “Hus” means “goose” in Czech), but a hundred years later, a swan would come whom they would be incapable of killing. In a strange twist of providence, it was 102 years later that Martin Luther nailed his theses to the front door of the Schlosskirche (Castle Church) in 1517.
In many ways, we can be grateful for how God used all of the figures of church history to spark the Protestant Reformation. You might not have April 18th on your calendar as a holiday, but if we want to trace to true explosion of the Reformation, we will go back to April 18th of 1521 when Martin Luther appears at the Diet of Worms.
We must remember, when Luther nailed his historic document to the Castle Church in 1517, he was an unconverted Augustinian monk. He would not be converted until a couple of years later upon the reading of Romans 1:17 when God opened his eyes to the truth of the gospel. From 1519 to 1521 something changed in Luther. He would publicly burn the Papal Bull in December of 1520 on the outside of Wittenberg with an audience of his theology students as witnesses. He would engage in the writing and publishing of three extremely controversial tracts against the Roman Catholic Church. Now—Luther is beginning to see that what he initially intended to be an internal debate was going to be an external Reformation.
It was this outspoken writing and preaching of Luther that created such a firestorm of controversy. Luther was referred to as a “wild boar” who was loose in the vineyard. It was at this point that Luther was summoned to appear at the Diet of Worms (formal assembly of the whole Roman empire’s hierarchy). Against the advice of his close friends, he would agree to appear. He was granted safe passage, but not everyone who has been granted such safety found themselves to be safe.
Rather than just appearing in the dark of night silently and ambiguous—Luther preached his way to the city of Worms. Luther’s popularity was greatly increasing by this point and everyone wanted to get a glimpse of the monk who was now publicly and defiantly opposing the entire Roman Catholic Church.
Luther would arrive in Worms in a covered wagon. Upon arriving, the city streets of Worms were lined with people. They wanted to get a glimpse of the famed monk. We have historic records stating that people were even standing on the rooftops to have a better view as his wagon pulled into town.
Due to the size and density of the massive crowd, his friends had to escort him in through a backdoor where the dignitaries were assembled—including the emperor—Charles V himself. Luther’s popularity had arisen to the level of a theological rock star in the eyes of the people. Luther was hated by many and loved by the masses.
As Luther approached this meeting and considered his defense, he did not do so with arrogance and a flippant attitude. Remember, this is the younger more poised Luther. He must have been asking himself if he would he be called out for all of his doctrinal positions or just justification by faith alone? Was it possible that a single Augustinian monk was right and the whole world was wrong?
When he walked into the room to stand before the royal assembly, the tension could be cut with a knife. Luther appeared in his humble monk’s attire. Charles V said, “He will not make a heretic out of me.”
There was a table present and on the table were all of his books. The spokesman of the emperor demanded that Luther not speak until he was bidden to speak. Finally, pointing at a pile of books on the table, he asked are these books printed in your name yours? If so, will you recant?
Luther finally spoke. In a humble tone, he admitted that all of the books on the table were indeed his books. However, in a strange twist to the tense moment, Luther asked for more time to consider his answer.