Luther's Call to Action: A Consideration of To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation
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OnOctober 31, 1517, Martin Luther posted his Ninety-FiveTheses on the church door in Wittenberg. The Lutheran Reformation was off and running, and the rest was history.But not so fast! Those theses were written in Latin by a gifted, rising, but still largely unknown German monk for scholars to debate the church’s teaching on indulgences.After five hundred years, that incident does not seem to be an event epic enough to move the foundations of Western Civilization. Indeed, after those five centuries, many who follow Luther would not even agree with many of the statement she fixed to the door that day.2So why has history crowned that event with such significance? It was the beginning.The beginning of the Reformation can be traced to that event as Luther was vaulted to global fame in a matter of weeks(which was a short time in those days), but that movement had a long way to go before it would truly shake the world. Luther continued to grow and develop in his understanding of theology as he studied the Scriptures more and more. As he did, he continued to teach and preach and write. He found an audience that grew along with him and was eager to devour his evangelical insights as quickly as he could produce them.As more people were touched by the gospel that, by the grace of God, Luther had restored to its place of prominence, the impact of that gospel could not be ignored. The Reformation began in 1517 at the door of the Castle Church, but it truly began to mature a few years later as Luther produced an incredible number of books, treatises, and pamphlets. His output from 1520 was especially impressive, not just because he wrote so much over such a short time, but the insight of the content he produced stands out to this day. It is the task of this symposium to consider some of the works Luther produced that year.In six months’ time, from June to November of 1520, Luther published, in addition to other material, theTreatise on Good Works, To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation, On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church, and On the Freedom of a Christian.Each played an important role in allowing the Reformation to blossom under God’s providential hand.This essay will focus on To the Christian Nobility.It will begin with a consideration of the historical background, focusing primarily on the events that immediately preceded the publication of these works. This section of the paper will set the stage for a review of all the treatises to be discussed at this symposium. It will then give an overview of the treatise itself. Finally, it will conclude with seeking to answer the question of why this treatise is still talked about, and worthy of consideration at this symposium, five hundred years after it was published.