Earlier this month I had the privilege of taking a 10-day European cruise on the Elbe River (click here to see a beautiful album of photos from the trip). The main purpose of my trip was to celebrate with millions of others in honoring the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. When we stopped at the church doors on which the 95 Theses were displayed, our guide explained that Luther’s desire wasn’t to be a revolutionary; he wanted to be a reformer. He loved the Catholic Church but came to the conviction that their religious practices conflicted with his understanding of the Bible. The door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany was the official location where scholars would place their points for public discussion held the following day, November 1st, 1517. Luther contextualized his 95 Theses which he placed on October 31st, 1517 as follows:
“Out of love for the truth and from desire to elucidate it, the Reverend Father Martin Luther, Master of Arts and Sacred Theology, and ordinary lecturer therein at Wittenberg, intends to defend the following statements and to dispute on them in that place. Therefore he asks that those who cannot be present and dispute with him orally shall do so in their absence by letter. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.”
I was struck by the fact that Luther was not trying to make a point; he was trying to make a difference. He was attempting to bring issues into the open for public discourse. His motives originated from a place of love, not a desire to be right and prove the Catholic Church wrong. Luther strongly disputed; he didn’t vilify. How far we’ve devolved from this brilliant manner of highlighting societal issues to be addressed in a collaborative fashion.
We then toured Castle Church and Luther’s home. We saw his Bible, his books, his table where he discussed theological insights, where he debated, where he stood, lived, and walked. It was surreal. What Luther did 500 years ago has far-reaching application for today’s leader regardless of religious beliefs. His life stands as a reminder that even 500 years later, the cost of questioning authority and bringing unsound practices to light comes at a steep price. The very organizations we care so deeply for may turn on us and spit us out should we try and reform them.
To learn more about what happened on this day 500 years ago and how Luther had the character and conviction to weather the events, pick up a copy of our latest Life-Changing Classic, Luther on Leadership by Dr. Stephen Nichols. Who knows what trials and debates you may find yourself engaged in throughout your life and leadership journey. Be prepared by learning from this seminal figure on how to stay true to your convictions, so you too can be a tremendous world changer.