I wonder if Martin Luther was thinking about the Leaning Tower of Pisa as he wrote “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” During Luther’s time, the famed tilted tower of Tuscany was headline news, but I digress. Let me go back to the beginning.
In the latter half of the 12th century, in the quiet and postcard-perfect Italian village of Pisa, the city fathers lobbied for a free-standing bell tower to be added to the city’s Cathedral Square. There, they envisioned, seven large bells would be showcased, one for each note of the musical scale. The vote was unanimous, the budget was approved, and construction began.
Phase I, the large base of 13-feet-thick walls to support the proposed massive tower, went up without a hitch; but once the second floor construction began, things started to shift…just a little at first but more as each successive floor was added.
The problem had been there the whole time: The 3-meter foundation, set in weak and unstable subsoil, was no match for the colossal campanile. Thus, construction was halted for about a century to allow the ground to settle.
As construction resumed in the late 13th century, and in an effort to compensate for the tilt, engineers built the upper floors with one side taller than the other, causing the spine of the tower to curve. As time marched on, the tilting continued. When it reached a lean of 5.5 degrees, justifiable worries led to action.
A multinational taskforce of engineers, mathematicians and historians gathered to devise a retrofit plan for the bell tower—the heavy bells already having been removed. Immediately, all housing in the path of the tower was evacuated. Then cables were cinched around the third level and anchored several hundred meters away. Next, 50 cubic yards of soil were removed under the tower’s raised end. When that didn’t work, they took another 77 tons of soil away and replaced it with 800 tons of lead counterweights.
Finally, when the project was completed, the engineers triumphantly announced the Leaning Tower of Pisa would be stable for at least 200 years.
With all the adjustments, the tower is 3 feet shorter on one side than the other, has a bend in the middle, and a top that has been displaced 13 feet horizontally from its originally designed position. It’s a beautiful tower, but a far cry from how the builder designed it.
That’s why I’m guessing Martin Luther had the leaning tower in mind when he wrote “A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing.”
He knew, as we do, that God’s character never changes, His strength never diminishes, His Word never fails. His love is unlimited, and His promises are immutable. He always accomplishes what He sets out to do. He never varies. He is “the same yesterday, today and forever.” He’s safe for all who run to Him and unbending to all who try to change Him.
On this planet our glorious God has assembled His one true structure that will stand the test of time—His church. It’s His building, the body of Christ. He’s the Architect, Builder, Owner and Lord.
• Is it well thought out? “He is the head of the body, the church.”
• Does it have a sure foundation? “Jesus Christ Himself is the chief cornerstone.”
• Is it bold and strong? “The gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
• Does it have a place in today’s world? “The church of the living God is the pillar and support of the truth.”
Now don’t get me wrong; this one-of-a-kind building is a work in progress. Under Construction signs could be hung over every pew…and pulpit! Yet this building in which we labor has no equal.
It’s a hardhat area, and you’d be wise to carry ear plugs, too, for there’s never a shortage of spectators who offer unsolicited and uninformed opinions. Regardless of the obstacles, you’ve been chosen to lead your crew toward the finished product.
Ministry is construction in its purest form, and as with any building project, the authorized blueprints—His Word—must be followed at all points.