MARTIN LUTHER’S STORY
Protestant historians have conferred the title, “Father of the Protestant Reformation” on John Wycliff [1330-1384] because Wycliff was the first reformer within the Catholic Church to significantly challenge Rome’s departure from Bible truth. If Wycliff is the father of Protestantism, then Martin Luther should be called “the Apostle Paul” of the Reformation. I say this because Paul and Luther were highly educated and they stand out in history for having accomplished the same thing. Both men created an exodus from two corrupt religious systems, Judaism and Catholicism, respectively, using the authority of Scripture.
Luther entered the Augustinian monastery at Erfurt in 1505 and he took the vow of obedience, poverty and chastity in the following year. By 1512, Luther had earned a doctoral degree. In 1515, at the age of 32, he was made vicar over eleven Augustinian monasteries. Luther was serious about serving the Lord and His church. As Luther matured in his understanding of the Bible, he became concerned about a number of doctrines which the Church endorsed. Eventually, a wedge of discernment divided the devotions of Luther. Even though he loved the Lord and the Church, Luther had carefully documented ninety-four issues within the Church that needed reform.
When the priest, Tetzel, came to town in 1517 boastfully offering to sell forgiveness of sins for a price, Luther was outraged. Tetzel was raising money to pay for the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica by selling salvation for a price. This was too much. Luther added this behavior to his long list and with a soul full of disgust, he nailed his ninety-five complaints to the church door in Wittenberg on October 31.
As a young priest, Luther did not question the idea that Church authority was greater and higher than the teachings of the Bible. However, after comparing the teachings of the Church with the Bible, Luther realized the Bible must be continually asserted and exalted above the authority of the Church. Otherwise, the carnal nature of man would eventually manipulate or corrupt the teachings of Christ. Luther also became convinced that mankind is justified before God through Christ without the necessity of works and a shocking experience confirmed his belief. Sometime between 1512 and 1515, Pope Leo X offered an indulgence [the forgiveness of sins] to people who would climb Pilate’s staircase on their knees. Because Luther sincerely wanted freedom from the guilt of sin, he decided to climb the staircase even though he was already struggling with the relationship between faith and works.
While climbing the staircase, he heard a thunderous voice say, “The just shall live by faith.” (Romans 1:7)
It was an epiphany! Suddenly, everything he had been studying in the Bible connected. In a flash he realized that salvation came through faith in Christ alone – without sacraments or works of penance – and he stood to his feet and departed the building in shame and haste.
In April 1521, Luther was summoned before Church officials at Worms to defend his radical teachings and behavior. He was accused of forty-one errors and given sixty days to recant. Of course, the Church could not accept Luther’s call for reform because his reformation would weaken the “God given” authority of the Church. When Luther saw that church officials had not examined his books and they would never accept the plainest teachings of Scripture, he spoke to the assembly saying, “Here I stand. I can do no other . . . my conscience is captive to the Word of God.” Luther was condemned to death, but he escaped arrest and was hidden at Wartburg Castle. It was during his time in Wartburg that Luther began his German translation of the Bible.
When Luther eventually reemerged from the Wartburg Castle, the emperor, distracted with other matters, pressed for Luther’s arrest. Ultimately, because of rising public support for Luther among the German people and the protection of certain German princes, the Edict of Worms was never enforced in Germany. However, in the Low Countries [comprising modern-day Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands], the Edict was initially enforced against Luther’s most active supporters.
Even though Luther’s call for reformation did not reform the Church, he did catch the ear of the laity. Laymen were weary of the fear and the burdens which the Church imposed on them. Luther knew the laymen were in spiritual darkness because they did not have access to the Bible. So, Luther translated the New Testament into the vernacular language of the German people in 1522.
This was the dawning of a new day.
The Church had forbidden possession of the Bible and people caught with Bibles were severely punished, tortured, or killed.
Luther’s activities in Germany added to the swell across Europe for reformation within the Church. Two hundred eighty-one years after posting his ninety-five theses to the church door at Wittenberg, the authority of the Catholic Church was toppled because it would not reform. In February 1798, Napoleon’s forces captured the area currently known as Vatican City, the pope was dethroned, and was taken prisoner by Generals Waller and Berthier. The elimination of papal power enabled Protestants to speak freely about salvation through faith in Christ. At last, they could teach and preach without intimidation or threat from the Catholic Church. Protestants began to share the good news that salvation was not dependent on church or priest! Salvation came through faith in Jesus alone.
There is nothing more powerful than a truth whose time has come.
When we remember that the Church of Rome fell because “judgment was pronounced in favor of the saints of the Most High” (Daniel 7:22), and that Jesus was found worthy to receive the Book of Life in 1798, we find an interesting effect on earth. Jesus broke the first seal on the Book of Life and the power of Jesus’ Gospel broke out of the tomb of darkness where it had been sealed for 1,260 years!