By What Authority? Matt. 21:23; Acts 17:10, 11; II Tim. 3:14–17 -- By: G. Thomas Halbrooks

Journal: Faith and Mission
Volume: FM 07:1 (Fall 1989)
Article: By What Authority? Matt. 21:23; Acts 17:10, 11; II Tim. 3:14–17
Author: G. Thomas Halbrooks

By What Authority?
Matt. 21:23; Acts 17:10, 11; II Tim. 3:14–17

G. Thomas Halbrooks

Professor of Church History
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary

It was one of those perfect summer days. The sun was warm but not hot; the breeze was cool. We were enjoying the city of Worms in West Germany. We had seen the moving Reformation monument, with life-size sculptures of all the major Reformation figures and relief sculptures of the major events. We had seen the cathedral. The bishop’s palace which had been next door to the cathedral was no longer there. Instead there was a beautiful garden. As Jeanie and John went on to look at other things, I decided to sit and reflect for a few moments. As I sat there in the serenity of the garden, I reenacted in my mind the event that had taken place on that spot over 450 years before and emblazoned itself immortally on the pages of history.

Martin Luther stood before the German imperial Diet. Around him stood the greatest assemblage of authorities in his day: the Diet, the electors of the empire, the emperor, the papal representative, the cardinals, and all the church authorities. He thought he was at last going to have the opportunity to defend his views. Instead, the inquisitor asked him two yes or no questions: “Are these your writings?”; “Will you recant what you have written in them?” Luther was shocked at this approach and asked for more time to think about his answer, since it could affect his eternal destiny. He was given twenty-four hours.

The next day the crowd was even larger. Luther began by asserting that those were indeed his writings, but he then went on to say,

When Christ stood before Annas, he said, “Produce witnesses.” If our Lord, who could not err, made this demand, why may not a worm like me ask to be convicted of error from the prophets and the Gospels? If I am shown my error, I will be the first to throw my books into the fire.

His inquisitor replied:

Martin .... Your plea to be heard from Scripture is the one always made by heretics .... How can you assume that you are the only one to understand the sense of Scripture? Would you put your judgment above that of so many famous men and claim that you know more than they all? You have no right to call into question the most holy orthodox faith, instituted by Christ the perfect lawgiver,.., defined by the Church..., and which now we are forbidden by the pope and the emperor to discuss lest there be no end of debate. I ask you, Martin—answer candidly and without horns—-do you or do you not repudiate your books and the errors which they contain?

The silence was deafening. ...

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