They had much in common. They were university professors, both lived in central Europe during the same century and both made astounding discoveries that would later change the world. But, in the end they chose to make separate responses to similar challenges to their faith and religious beliefs and their choices gave us a real-life lesson in how to respond to the pressure of the world when our beliefs are challenged.
Galileo was the first to use a refracting telescope to make important astronomical discoveries. He made a series of profound discoveries using his new telescope. As a professor of astronomy at University of Pisa, Galileo was required to teach the accepted theory of his time that the sun and all the planets revolved around the Earth. Galileo’s observations with his new telescope convinced him of the truth of a sun-centred planetary system. He is often referred to as ‘the father of astronomy.’
Galileo’s support for the heliocentric theory got him into a lot of trouble with the Roman Catholic Church. He was convicted of heresy and forced to recant and publicly withdraw his support of a theory that said the earth was not the centre of the universe. He did so to save his life by simply proclaiming that his discoveries were untrue.
Martin Luther was a professor at the University of Whittenburg. He became convinced that the Bible was the true Word of God and had been abused by the Catholic Church. He appealed to the Pope to affirm the Gospel and later posted his 95 Thesis (really 95 points of error between the Gospel and its interpretation by the church) on the door of Castle Church. He sought not a breakaway from the church but a reformation from within.
Like Galileo, Luther was tried as a heretic and brought before the Diet of Worms where he was given the opportunity to recant and get in theological line with the church. He declined to do so saying, “On this I take my stand. I can do no other.” Facing his opposers, Luther stood for his beliefs. Luther stood alone. Luther was true to his faith.
What a contrast we have here of two similar, yet diametrically different men. One stood at risk for his beliefs, while the other renounced truth and betrayed his faith for his personal safety.
I am reminded of the admonition of Paul writing to the church at Corinth saying, “Stand firm in the faith; be men and women of courage; be strong.” I thought of what today’s church might be like if Luther had wimped on his faith like Galileo did. Luther stood firm in the faith.
The world tells us to compromise for our personal gain and protection, but the Bible tells us to stand firm for our faith no matter what the world says. It is easy to compromise and conform. There is company in a crowd and it is often lonely to stand alone, but our faith tells us to hold fast and in the words of Martin Luther, “we can do no other.”