During our trip to Ohio, I had opportunity to read some of Martin Luther’s writings. I brought a copy of “Three Treatises,” which ends up not being all that focused on theology proper, but was a highly enjoyable read. The first treaties is An Open Letter to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation Concerning the Reform of the Christian Estate. This was written in 1520, and Luther was apparently quite aware that his relationship with the Catholic Church was damaged beyond repair by this point (by this time in his life Luther had clearly proclaimed his questioning of papal authority and numerous specific practices of the Church). Even in his written word in this essay it is possible to see the passion he must have had regarding the comprehensive lack of discernment and holiness in the Church, and specifically in the person and office of the pope.
There were numerous passages in the essay that were noteworthy and concise enough to quote, but one related generally to politics really jumped out at me. He was crying out against the actions of Rome (referencing the Church) in its dishonorable acquisition of the Roman Empire from the Greek Emperor, and then his giving it to the German Nation in order to establish a “Second Roman Empire” under his own rule. Luther’s statements are still relevant today:
For the Lord God it is a small thing to toss empires and principalities to and fro! He is so generous with them that once in a while He gives a kingdom to a knave and takes it from a good man, sometimes by the treachery of wicked, faithless men and sometimes by heredity, as we read of the kingdoms of Persia and Greece, and of almost all kingdoms; and Daniel 2 and 4 says: “He who ruleth over all things dwelleth in heaven, and it is he alone who changeth kingdoms, tosseth them to and fro, and maketh them.” Since, therefore, no one can think it a great thing to have a kingdom given to him, especially if he is a Christian, we Germans cannot be puffed up because a new Roman Empire bestowed on us; for in His eyes it is a trifling gift, which He often gives to the most unworthy, as Daniel 4 says: “All who dwell on the earth are in his eyes as nothing, and he has power in all the kingdoms of men, to give them to whomsoever he will.”
This is indeed a good reminder that it is God who gives and takes kingdoms and establishes rulers. Beware of those who suggest that God is any less capable of or active in doing this in a democratic republic!