Today, Christians around the world celebrate the 500-year anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.

On this day in 1517, German priest and theologian Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the door of his church, challenging the religious systems of his time. This audacious act provoked controversy that would split churches, bring revivals and ultimately transform history.

While we could talk about Luther’s theology (I’m not the guy to lead this discussion), or address the benefits and woes of denominationalism, let’s instead explore Luther’s decision to take this very risky stand.

What kind of leader summons this kind of courage?

I suspect Luther acted not out of desire to start a movement, but because staying quiet would have compromised his integrity. As the old adage emphasizes – “silence is tacit approval.”

Stephen Carter, in his book Integrity (1996), suggests that integrity requires 3 things of the leader. Leaders must:

  1. Discern what is right and wrong – Luther saw a great disconnect between scriptural teaching and church practice. This proved especially problematic in an era where only priests had access to biblical texts.
  2. Act on what they believe, even at personal cost – Luther, after refusing to recant his beliefs, was excommunicated from his beloved Catholic church by Pope Leo X on January 3, 1521.
  3. Say openly that they are acting on their understanding of right and wrong – After Luther’s removal, when ordered to defend himself at the Diet of Worms, he stood strong under immense pressure, saying…

“I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen.”

Taking a stand involves great risk. Like Luther, leaders do well to pursue counsel, pray earnestly and seek to honor God-given authority. Certain moments, however, require the great courage to stand.

And occasionally, such valor changes history.

Ask yourself today: Do I, as a leader seek God’s Word, His Spirit, and godly counsel in ethical decision making? Are there any areas where I currently need to take a stand for truth?

Daniel Gluck serves as Assistant Professor of Intercultural Studies at Jessup, and Lead Faculty for the B.A. in Christian Leadership program.