It doesn't take a Rhodes Scholar to guess the country of the following towns, though the names may be strange-sounding:
- Bad Kissingen
The land of beer steins, sauerkraut, liverwurst, and black bread; overflowing flower boxes; cuckoo clocks; wide, winding rivers; deep-green woods; gray-stone houses with slate roofs; impressive castles on hillsides; towering bronze monuments; quiet and efficient trains; vegetable gardens in small villages, tended by elderly women with scarves wrapping their heads and dark, thick stockings covering their legs; and certainly the greatest music ever written. The beloved homeland of Bach, Mendelssohn, Haydn, Handel, Beethoven, Wagner, and a half dozen other geniuses whose masterworks outlive them by centuries. The lovely and charming country a madman romanced then raped and Allied bombs almost ruined in the 1940s still stands as a mute reminder that God didn't want it a wasteland to be forgotten. Something must be there that He wanted preserved.
A plot of land no larger than the state of Oregon, Germany is no dusty relic of the past. Far from it. Modern, efficient, computerized, and an unquestioned leader in the European common market, her cities pulsate with people on the move, with that age-old, never-say-die determination. A glance at her skyscrapers would remind you of St. Louis or Dallas, Atlanta or Seattle. Backward, she's not. Nor bankrupt, not by a long shot. Thanks to the fall of the wall, she's unified again and proud of it.
It is not often remembered in this hard-charging home of high-tech existence that it was there that a major section of the taproot of Protestantism found its origin. It was there that some of the severest yet most essential battles for the faith were fought. It was there that the chain that bound the Bible to ornate pulpits of spiritually dead religion was broken. It was there that its truths were liberated from the secret language of a corrupt clergy and placed into the hands of the common people. And it was there that those same people were first given a hymnal from which they could sing their faith. Think of it . . . in place of biblical ignorance and slavery to a system that could never bring light, German believers were provided a Bible in their tongue with its grand themes put to music. Instead of mumbling repetitious prayers, crouching in fear, they could approach the throne of God with confidence and personally praise Him as their Shield and their Defender. Among the best: Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott, "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God." Their courage mounted as their doubts faded, all because a sixteenth-century German monk was willing to take his stand against all odds. Yes, never doubt it . . . all odds.
It was in his tiny, stark cell in the Augustinian convent at Erfurt, all alone with a Latin copy of the Word of God, that Martin Luther decided to believe God, to allow Scripture to mean what it says, and then to stand firmly on it, regardless of the consequences. It's that last part we tend to minimize. Being officially branded a heretic did not hold him back. Being publicly defrocked, rebuked, and excommunicated merely fueled his fire. With unlimited energy and unrestrained anger, he tore into the church like a human pit bull and refused to let go. From those Ninety-five Theses he hammered onto the door of the Wittenberg church to the day he stood at Worms (pronounced "Vurms") before the most impressive array of church prelates and political authorities ever gathered in his lifetime, the man remained the embodiment of authentic courage. He was only 37 at the time. Not often tactful but always sincere, he hurled himself at religious wrongs like a blazing meteor wrapped in a robe. Not a well man physically, Luther nevertheless maintained a punishing schedule of preaching, publishing, and pouncing for the rest of his days. He summed up his reason in a single, succinct sentence: "Here I stand: I can do no other." His life, with more turns and tumults than the Rhine, maintained a steadfast course. The spark he ignited caused the Reformation to burst into full flame.
I have walked where he stood. No longer jeers but monuments and plaques and paintings now mark his pilgrimage. Instead of being humiliated as a heretic, he is now honored as a hero. Time has a way of correcting faulty perspectives. During my visit there, I sat and thought in the castle room at Coburg where he once sat and wrote. I saw the same structures and walls and hillsides he once saw in Heidelberg. I relived some of the feelings he once had at Worms. I was moved in my soul, and I'm a better man because of it. I needed that visit to his Saxon homeland. I needed to hear those guttural sounds as he once spoke and to touch the stones he once touched. I found myself seeing beyond the temporal stuff like steins and sauerkraut, skyscrapers and vegetable gardens. I heard Luther's voice in the woodwork, and I felt his fire in the bronze and iron. It was more powerful than my phrases can possibly describe, making me appreciate again the eloquent words from the sacred text, "he being dead yet speaketh" (Hebrews 11:4 KJV).
And so it is with all models of righteousness now gone from view. Like silent shadows, these heroes pass beside us and point us toward the upward way, whispering words of courage. We stand on their shoulders, gaining a strategic vantage point. The memory of their example puts needed steel in our spirit, prompting us to press forward, always forward. The legacy of their powerful presence and penetrating pages adds depth to our otherwise superficial existence. Because their convictions live on in words that challenge shallow thinking, we do not—we dare not—remain the same.