Pontius Pilate asked the famous question, “What is truth?” (John 18:38). Pilate wasn’t looking for an answer; he was stating his view that there really is no such thing as truth. Truth is what you say it is. Truth is what you want to believe. Truth is relative and changing.
Pilate was not the first to be skeptical about the truth, and he was not the last. We live in a world that has wholeheartedly adopted Pilate’s philosophy. Most people today do not believe that absolute truth exists: My truth is what I want the truth to be, and no one has the right to tell me otherwise. It’s that philosophy that has enabled our society to redefine marriage and sexuality. It also infects our news media and culture. Sadly, a denial of absolute truth has enabled vast segments of the Christian church to adopt teachings and practices that change with the winds of popular trends.
This year marks the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s appearance before Emperor Charles V in the German city of Worms. The emperor summoned Luther to this assembly of leaders in his empire to demand that the monk from Wittenberg retract what he had written about the various false teachings entrenched in the Roman Catholic Church. The Diet of Worms had been convened in January (500 years ago this month), but Luther did not appear before it until April.
When Luther appeared, it was before a gathering that had the power to arrest and execute him for what the church called heresy. Pope Leo X, who had already excommunicated Luther, was not in the room, but Pope Leo’s official representative was there. The stage was set for a dramatic confrontation with Luther. The group would demand that Luther disavow what he had written—or else.
When asked whether he would renounce and retract what he had written, Luther made it clear that truth was not relative and changing. Truth—clear, dependable, and unchanging—came from one place alone. Luther said, “Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason . . . I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen.” The official records of the Diet of Worms do not indicate that Luther said (as he is often quoted), “Here I stand; I can do no other.” He may have spoken those words outside of the formal proceedings.
Regardless of whether or not he actually spoke those words, they describe what Luther was doing even when his very life was at stake: He stood on the Scriptures and would remain standing on the Scriptures because it was the only source of unchanging truth.
By God’s grace, we have stood on the truth of the Scriptures. That is where we stand now. The theme for the 2021 synod convention will be “Here We Stand.” And, by God’s grace, that is where we will continue to stand. Standing on the Scriptures, we are sure that the doctrine we teach and the gospel we proclaim are based not on human wisdom or desires but on the truth that God himself has revealed to us.
In a world where truth seems to be changing, where so many remain uncertain about everything, where present-day skeptical Pilates still scoff at the very idea of absolute truth, we stand with Luther. We cannot do otherwise.
Author: Mark Schroeder
Volume 108, Number 1
Issue: January 2021