The Conditionalist Faith of Our Fathers, vol. 2


IV. Dramatic Break With the Might of Rome

Meanwhile, on the basis of Bible prophecy, with its eschatological climax, Luther had come to the irrevocable conclusion that the papal system, with the pope as head, was the Antichrist of the prophetic predictions of Daniel, Paul, and John. This added to the seriousness of Luther’s revolt. Leo X sought to silence the bold monk by issuing, on June 15, 1520, the bull Exsurge Domini (named from the opening words) against the “Errors of Luther,” saying a “wild boar has invaded thy vineyard,” and giving him six months to submit. Soon he was summoned to Rome to recant, but without a hearing, which was tantamount to condemnation without a trial. But the elector of Saxony and the university faculty demanded that Luther be accorded a hearing on German soil. CFF2 70.2


In Luther’s eighteen-day disputation with Dr. Johann Eck, of Leipzig, in 1519, the German Reformer’s convictions had been deepened. He held it to be impudent to affirm that any tenet that Christ never taught is a lawful part of Christianity. And he protested Eck’s use of the Apocryphal 2 Maccabees 12:45 as noncanonical and devoid of authority. Luther published his positions in three works: To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation (1520), On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church, and Concerning Christian Liberty. Thus the populace was kept informed. CFF2 71.1

The final rupture came when on November 20 Luther brought forth his treatise Against the Execrable Bull of Antichrist, and on December 10 dramatically burned in public the papal bull as the “Bull of Antichrist,” together with a copy of the decretals. The breach was now irreparable. But by this time Luther regarded excommunication as emancipation from the fetters of the Papacy. That bold act launched the Reformation. CFF2 71.2

The pope’s first bull had anathematized forty-one of Luther’s Theses as heretical, scandalous, or false, and ordered his books burned. Now a second bull, Damnatio et excommunicatio Martini Lutheri ... (January 4, 1521), placed Luther, his works and followers, under the actual ban of excommunication, pronouncing Luther an incorrigible heretic. Nevertheless, enrollment in his classes increased sharply. Luther declared that Christ, not Peter, was the rock upon which the church rests. Meantime, his studies again focused on the prophecies of Daniel, Paul, Peter, and John, leading on to the last things. Luther was now more than ever convinced that the Papacy, with all of its perversions, was the Antichrist of prophecy which had perverted the gospel. CFF2 71.3


Luther’s stand at the Diet of Worms was based on that concept, as he took his stand on the platform of Holy Scripture. His defense before the brilliant assembly of 210 high churchmen, princes, and nobles from every country of Europe was a truly imposing spectacle—one of the heroics of history, as this lone monk, in coarse brown frock, rose to the occasion, answering for his faith first in Latin and then in German, and brought his declarations to a climax with: CFF2 72.1

“Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason—I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other—my conscience is captive to the Word of God, I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.” 3 CFF2 72.2

Shortly after the Diet a band of horsemen “captured” Luther (in May, 1521), taking him to the Wartburg Castle, which he regarded as his “Isle of Patmos.” This period of retirement resulted in his greatest gift to the Reformation—the translation of the Bible into the German vernacular (for Latin was read only by the educated few)—100,000 copies being distributed within forty years. Everything, he taught, must be built upon the rock of Scripture. Thus the vernacular Bible became a symbol of a return to the primitive gospel. And in proportion to its supremacy, traditionism was crowded into the background. Thus the Reformation period became pre-eminently the Age of the Book. CFF2 72.3

Luther’s teachings spread in ever-widening circles. At the Diet of Augsburg in 1530, the Augsburg Confession, written by Melanchthon, was adopted. But Luther authored 294 works in German and 71 in Latin, including his Great Catechism for adults and his Little Catechism for children. And his complete German Bible, in both Testaments, was published in 1534. CFF2 72.4