Who is Martin Luther and What is the Protestant Reformation?
Happy Reformation Day! Many of you might say Happy Halloween today (October 31st), but for historical theology nerds like myself, we say Happy Reformation Day. What is this reformation that seems to be worth mentioning? Well, go back in time with me to the early 1500s.
Coming out of the Dark Ages, many things had changed within religious practice in Central Europe, specifically in the Roman Catholic Church. Practices like charging for indulgences, commoners not having access to the Word of God, having to confess your sins to a priest/pastor to receive forgiveness, and many other things had become common practice. These practices became frustrating for many, but there was a monk who rose to the top of those frustrated – Martin Luther.
Luther was born in 1483 in Eisleben, Saxony (modern day Germany). The son of a miner, who wanted a better life for his son, young Martin was enrolled in school and set on a track to become a lawyer. In 1505, Luther’s life changed forever. While caught in a major storm and fearing for his life, he committed to becoming a monk! What a drastic change of careers, right?
Throughout the next few years, Luther would grow in his understanding of spiritual matters and would end up in Wittenberg, Germany. While in Wittenberg, things would begin to fester for Martin as he was enlightened to the realization that we are “justified by faith alone.” You see, the Church was selling indulgences (to raise money) so that people could be forgiven of their sin. However, Martin was convinced that this belief was contrary to the Scriptures, so he challenged it.
Unlike today’s culture, where we would post something on social media (although often times not welcoming debate), in the 1500s, the practice was to nail items up for debate to the door of the town church. The church door was essentially a bulletin board where people would go to find information. Martin Luther, on October 31, 1517, nailed 95 Theses to the door of the Church at Wittenberg. This moment sparked what has become know as the Protestant Reformation.
Eventually, Luther would be involved in a lively debate at The Diet of Worms because he was charged with heresy. He wouldn’t retract his statements or change his beliefs, so he went into hiding because the Diet (assembly of the Holy Roman Empire) was divided. A month later, the Diet would ban all of Luther’s writings, declare him a heretic, and call him an enemy of the state. Despite this view, Luther’s Theses spread to other countries and sparked reform in places like Scotland and Switzerland.
As I reflect back on an event that took place 505 years ago, I’m thankful. I’m thankful for a guy like Martin Luther, who was convicted by the Holy Spirit and believed the Holy Scriptures so much that he would stand up. I’m thankful for the spark that began a reforming of the Church, which would breed an evangelical Protestant movement that we are apart of today. I’m also thankful that I had the opportunity a few years ago to visit the birthplace of the Reformation. I walked through the University where Luther studied, I saw the church where he nailed the 95 Theses, and I walked the streets of Wittenberg.
I pray that on this Reformation Day that we will do what Luther did… “Here I stand; I can do no other.” Let’s stand on the foundation of God’s Word and continue in the mission laid out before us.