Doctor Martin Luther
Our loving God has always sought ways to help His wayward people turn away from sin and error. During Old Testament times He sent prophets and judges to teach and warn them. In New Testament times, He sent His only Son, Jesus Christ, to live and die and rise again to save us all.
Since then, He has sent others to keep His church on the right path. The greatest of these was Martin Luther. Martin Luther was a German monk, a Catholic priest, a professor of theology and the seminal figure of the 16th-century movement in Christianity known later as the Protestant Reformation.
Martin Luther was born in Eisleben, Saxony in the Holy Roman Empire on November 10, 1483. This was about thirty years after the invention of the printing press and only 9 years before Columbus discovered the New World. In those days there was only one Christian Church, the Roman Catholic Church, and it was no longer based on the Bible alone. The Church had invented new doctrines and practices that Jesus and His disciples had never taught. At that time, many of the Church’s leaders, including some Popes, were sinful and corrupt.
In 1516, Johann Tetzel, a Dominican friar and papal commissioner for indulgences, was sent to Germany by the Church to sell indulgences to raise money to rebuild St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. Catholic theology stated that faith alone cannot justify man; justification rather depends only on such faith as is active in charity and good works. The benefits of good works could be obtained by donating money to the church. The indulgence was a paper, signed by the bishop stating that sins were forgiven in return for a certain amount of money. Sometimes a sinner’s time in purgatory was reduced by the indulgences if the persons buying them could not afford to pay for total forgiveness.
Martin Luther strongly disputed the claim that freedom from God's punishment for sin could be purchased with money. He confronted the Bishop of Mainz with his Ninety-Five Theses in 1517. Luther had no intention of confronting the church, but saw his disputation as a scholarly objection to church practices, and the tone of the writing is accordingly searching. There is nevertheless an undercurrent of challenge in several of the theses, particularly in Thesis 86, which asks: "Why does the pope, whose wealth today is greater than the wealth of the richest Crassus, build the basilica of St. Peter with the money of poor believers rather than with his own money?" He wrote many more tracts and pamphlets during these early years defending his belief in justification by faith alone.
His refusal to retract all of his writings at the demand of Pope Leo X in 1520 and the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V at the Diet of Worms in 1521 resulted in his excommunication by the Pope and condemnation as an outlaw by the Emperor.
Luther taught that salvation and eternity in heaven is not earned by good deeds, but is received only as a free gift of God's grace through faith in Jesus Christ as redeemer from sin. His theology challenged the authority of the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church by teaching that the Bible is the only source of divinely revealed knowledge from God. Luther also opposed sacerdotalism (belief emphasizing the power of priests as essential mediators between God and man) by considering all baptized Christians to be a holy priesthood. Those who identify with these, and all of Luther's wider teachings, are called Lutherans even though Luther insisted on Christian as the only acceptable name for individuals who professed Christ.
His translation of the Bible into German (instead of Latin) made it more accessible to the people, which had a tremendous impact on the church and on German culture. It fostered the development of a standard version of the German language, added several principles to the art of translation, and influenced the writing of an English translation, the Tyndale Bible. Martin Luther also wrote many hymns for the church. He encouraged people to sing in church. His hymns and liturgical songs influenced the development of singing in churches. His marriage to Katharina von Bora set a model for the practice of clerical marriage, allowing Protestant priests to marry. His joyous years with Katie and their children impressed many.
Martin Luther died in 1546, still convinced of the correctness of his Reformation theology, and with his decree of excommunication by Pope Leo X still effective. On his deathbed, Luther was asked, “Are you ready to die trusting in your Lord Jesus Christ and to confess the doctrine which you have taught in his name?” He answered, “Yes,” before taking his final breath.