Luther Leads Reform
The Reformation had now turned into a popular movement. Luther received continual requests for scriptural advice and he responded with numerous written treatises. Among his correspondents was Philipp Melanchthon, a close friend and supporter. A fellow professor at the University of Wittenberg, Melanchthon is regarded as the one who systematized Luther’s ideas for scholarship and teaching.
One of Luther’s most significant treatises declared that monastic vows were not binding. The real question, he insisted, was how to best serve one’s neighbor. If this was accomplished through the holy order, Luther advised them to remain a monk or nun. If one could serve their neighbor better outside the monastery or cloister, then Luther advised they should leave. As a result, many in the clergy left the ministry.
When Luther eventually reemerged from Wartburg, the emperor was distracted with political matters and did not press for Luther’s arrest. Luther’s increasing public support and protection by several German princes resulted in the Edict of Worms remaining unenforced throughout Germany.
At the same time, radical developments were occurring in Wittenberg exceeding anything Luther envisioned. The reforms turned violent and included a revolt by the Augustinian monks against their prior, the smashing of statues and images in churches, and denunciations of the magistracy. Wittenberg became even more volatile when a band of visionary zealots, the Zwickau prophets, began preaching revolutionary doctrines such as the equality of man, adult baptism, and Christ’s imminent return. When the town council asked Luther to return, he decided it was his duty to act.
Luther secretly returned to Wittenberg in 1522, and without asking permission, retook his old pulpit and preached the eight “Invocavit Sermons” about the core Christian values of love, patience, and freedom. He reminded citizens to trust God’s word rather than violence to bring about change.
Luther’s return to Wittenberg brought immediate civil stability and relief. He worked alongside authorities to banish the Zwickau prophets, but despite his victories, radicalism continued to grow outside of the city. The German Peasants’ War of 1524-25 resulted in many atrocities, some even committed in Luther’s name. Luther responded in writing by reminding the aggrieved to obey the temporal authorities, and even charged the rebels with blasphemy for calling themselves “Christian brothers” and committing their violent acts under the banner of the Gospel.