Preceding the great event known as the Reformation, the setting was a horrific mess. The normal person who went to church didn’t know the teachings of the Bible or the Gospel of Jesus. They were unsure of their standing before the Triune God and certainly unsure of their calling. Why was it this way? What happened? How could this be? It happened gradually over time, but the Word of the Lord was put to the side for the rules, deeds, fasts, and feats of men. The whispers of the demons finally gained the edge within the walls of the church. In the subterfuge, only the best contenders for carnal righteousness rose to the top. The rest of the people were kept in the dark purposely and deliberately. It brought the powerful more leverage. It secured their envied positions. And, it created foul and unthinkable opportunities.
In the darkness, the common people were frightened and confused. They were scared in life and scared in death. They were like defenseless lambs without a shepherd. With no assurance of the forgiveness of sins in Christ and no connection to the truth of God’s Word, they were prey for the wolves. They blindly followed any man-made proposition that was supposed to make them holier. As Rome began to offer purchasable forms of forgiveness called indulgences, they drew a hefty price. With the hopes of avoiding the fierce fires of hell, the people forked over what little they had left. The very Sheep for whom Christ died, were being bought and sold with each ring in the coffers. And with every consumer exchange, eternity wasn’t being delivered, it was being stolen.
It is precisely in times like this, that men cower or go along with the flow. Systems get too strongly ingrained in the culture to contest them. Individuals, spouses, families, politicians, and clergy all jump on board. Once that current starts flowing, rarely do people stand against it. This is especially true when a faithful pastor or two tries to address the evil with Scripture, and they end up at the top of a stake. It was in this very setting, however, a man was seized by the truth of God’s Word and captured by the Gospel. His name was Martin Luther. The word that pierced his soul was from Romans 1:17, “the just shall live by faith.” As he posted the 95 Theses on the church door in Wittenberg and began to teach what the Word of God says about truth, grace, righteousness, mercy, holiness, and forgiveness, many others rallied to his side. The Word once again was doing its mighty work – creating saving faith (Romans 10:17). The common people rejoiced once more as the Good News was again preached to the poor (Matthew 11:5). It made its way up to the clergy, the professors, the princes, and even to the mighty electors. It was this bold profession of justification thorugh the completed work of Christ on the cross that both Frederick the Wise and John the Steadfast confessed on their death beds. This band of believers, who could no longer let go of the central teaching of the Holy Christian Church on earth known as justification, would go on to be identified as heretics, rebels, and outlaws. This band, which would come to be branded as “Lutherans,” would eventually form the Schmalkaldic League to defend themselves against the mighty forces of the Holy Roman Empire.
The setting of LEAGUE OF CONFESSORS encapsulates the spiritual and physical struggle that took place after the death of John the Steadfast (1532) and the eventual signing of the Peace of Augsburg (1555). The picture above, depicts John the Steadfast, protesting the rulings of the Diet of Speyer in 1529.