October 31 of this year was a 500 year anniversary of a momentous occasion in human history. It was 500 years ago that Martin Luther posted his protests of the Catholic church failings. From that simple protest that would likely get him into serious trouble, possibly including a painful death, Martin Luther began a movement of thought that has shaped the world.
Martin Luther is a hero of the church! The miracle that set Martin Luther on his path is an amazing part of Church history. The event which radically changed the course of Luther’s life took place near Stotterheim, Germany on July 2, 1505.
Luther had recently completed a Master’s degree and started his law studies at the University of Erfurt. While he was on his way back to Erfurt after having visited his parents, Luther was caught in a terrible thunder storm a few hours outside of his home at the university when lightning struck near him and he was thrown to the ground by the air pressure it created. At this moment he decided to succumb to God’s calling to dedicate himself to serving in the Church. To his father’s disgust and anger, Luther honored his solemn promise; he had one last party with university friends on July 16 and the next day he entered the Black Monestary in Erfurt to become a monk. Little did Martin Luther know, he was just beginning to fulfill what God called him to do.
He later was called to return the Church to proper teaching and practices. Luther rejected several teachings and practices of the only Catholic Church of the time. He strongly disputed the view of indulgences. He knew that freedom from God’s punishment for sin could not be purchased with money. Luther proposed an academic debate of the practice and efficacy of indulgences in his Ninety-five Theses of 1517.
This protest was met with anger from the powers of the day, Pope Leo X and the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. Martin Luther refused to renounce all of his writings as was demanded by the Pope and the Emperor. Thus, at the Diet of Worms in 1521 Martin Luther was excommunicated by the Pope and condemned as an outlaw by the Emperor. Catholic church teaching stated that excommunication meant that the person was destined to hell. And outlaw status stripped him of any societal privilege and required severest prison if not death.
Martin Luther was so convinced that Scripture taught differently, he risked his life for the Truth. Luther believed and taught that salvation and, consequently, eternal life are not earned by good deeds but are received only as the free gift of God’s grace through the believer’s faith in Jesus Christ as redeemer from sin. Furthermore, the Church cannot take this away. They may take his freedom and his eternal life; but, he must teach the Truth as God had revealed in Scripture.
His theology challenged the authority and office of the Pope by teaching that the Bible is the only source of divinely revealed knowledge from God. Luther insisted on Christian or Evangelical as the only acceptable names for individuals who professed Christ. He always wanted unity for the sake of Christ, but he was not going to sacrifice Truth at any cost.
His translation of the Bible into the German vernacular (instead of Latin) made it more accessible to understand and read for the common folk. For the first time God’s Word was able to be studied and understood by anyone who could read and did not need a priest or clergy to do it for them. This event had a tremendous impact on both the church and western culture. It fostered the development of a standard version of languages, added several principles to the art of translation, and influenced the writing of an English translation, the Tyndale Bible. His hymns influenced the development of singing in Protestant churches that led to today’s praise teams. His marriage to a former nun, set a model for the practice of clerical marriage, allowing Protestant clergy to marry. From this simple protest, nailing 95 needed reforms on a church door, came Protestantism that shaped the world and influenced the colonies, that led to the individual rites of citizens, which led to the formation of the United States.
What would the world look like if Martin Luther did not succumb to God’s calling?
Brecht, Martin (2015) Martin Luther: His road to Reformation, 1483–1521. Retrieved November 1, 2017
Maier, P. L., & Copeland, G. (2004). Martin Luther: a man who changed the world. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Pub. House.