Martin Luther (1483-1546)
The Man Who Started The Protestant Reformation
Born in Eisleben, German (120 miles southwest of modern Berlin)
Luther was a dedicated monk before he realized that the church taught much differently than the Bible. He was a student of the Scriptures and was especially touched when he read the 17th verse of the first chapter of Romans: “For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.”
The English King James translation says “the just shall live by faith” which is similar to Luther’s own, German translation of the Greek: “The righteous shall live by faith.” The question that tormented him was, “I am not righteous, so how can I live by faith?”
I am not righteous, so how can I live by faith?
Later, he wrote the following, “At last meditating day and night, by the mercy of God, I… began to understand that the righteousness of God is that through which the righteous live by a gift of God, namely by faith… Here I felt as if I were entirely born again and had entered paradise itself through the gates that had been flung open.”
To sum it up, Luther’s faith was no longer dependent on the church’s teachings or his own righteousness, but changed to trusting the promises of God and the merits of Christ. You could say that Luther received stimulation by revelation! There was no stopping him after this.
In 1517, he nailed his 95 theses to the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, protesting, among other things, Johann Tetzel’s selling of indulgences. Tetzel, a Catholic friar, was given the task of funding the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica, and the funding was to come from the selling of “indulgences.” An indulgence purchased from the Church was/is said to allow a remission of punishment for sin. Basically, once purchased, they are said to reduce or eliminate punishment for past sins.
The conflict between Luther and Rome escalated at a public debate in 1519, when Luther declared that “a simple layman armed with the Scriptures was superior to both pope and councils without them (Scriptures).” This did not sit well with the pious Catholic priests, who believed that the Church, and not the Scriptures, were the ultimate authority. (By the way, they still believe that.)
In 1520 Pope Leo issued a bull, giving Luther 60 days to recant his 95 Theses and other so-called heretical writings, or he would be excommunicated and face the punishment of burning at the stake. Further, all of Luther’s writings were to be publicly burned. Luther’s response? Rather than yielding to the threat of burning, he burned the letter from the pope on the day of his deadline! This cemented Luther’s separation from the church, and he was quickly condemned as a heretic. Brother Branham chose the year 1520, when Luther officially separated from the Church, as the start of the Sardisean Church Age.
He burned the letter from the pope on the day of his deadline!
Luther continued writing, preaching, and even translated the Bible into the common language (German), so everyone would have the opportunity to read God’s Word. And, he constantly tormented the Church by going against their theological grain. One of those jabs into the side of the clergy was his stance on priests being permitted to marry.
Katharina von Bora was one of 12 nuns who Luther helped escape from a convent in Nimbschen, Germany. She was interested in the growing Protestant movement, and eventually contacted Martin Luther to plead for his help in escaping. On the day before Easter, 1523, Luther sent a city councilman along with a merchant who regularly delivered fish to the convent. The nuns either crawled into the individual fish barrels or hid among the barrels in a covered wagon to escape the convent.
When they arrived in Wittenberg, Luther tried to return the women to their families. The families refused to have their daughters returned out of fear that the Church would inflict severe punishment for aiding runaway nuns. Luther then decided, according to their wishes, to help the nuns find husbands. He was able to marry off all but one. This nun proved to be too picky for the suiters Luther and his colleagues found for her. She decided that Luther would be an acceptable husband, and after some resistance, he finally agreed and they started a family together in 1525.
Luther was not only a revolutionary in his teaching, but he also used new technology to his advantage. The Gutenberg press was invented just in time for Luther’s ministry. He was quick to use mass printing to spread his message of reformation throughout the world. The Catholics did their best to destroy his writings, but it was a futile effort. The Reformation had gathered so much momentum that it was unstoppable.
Luther suffered from multiple health problems until he died from a stroke at the age of 62.
Here are a few facts about Martin Luther that you may not know.
Luther was a devout student, graduating with a Master’s degree in Law in the shortest time permitted by the university. He also became fluent in Latin during his studies, which laid a foundation for his success as a priest. He later learned Greek and Hebrew for his translation work.
When a lightning bolt struck near him while he was caught in a severe thunderstorm, Luther cried out, “Help me, St. Anne! I will become a monk.” While a bit misguided in who he was crying out to, he kept his promise.
Luther’s 95 Theses written in 1517 may have strongly condemned indulgences, but the reformation it started quickly became about the authority of the Church.
In 1521, he was called to an assembly at Worms, Germany to appear before the “Holy Roman Emperor.” Luther was led to believe that it was a debate, but it was actually his trial. He was told to recant his statements, to which he responded, “Unless I can be instructed and convinced with evidence from the Holy Scriptures or with open, clear, and distinct grounds of reasoning … then I cannot and will not recant, because it is neither safe nor wise to act against conscience. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me! Amen.”
Luther seemed to be constantly embroiled in disputes, and not all of these were with the Catholic Church. In one of these disputes, German peasants, inspired by the reformation movement, demanded more rights and freedom from the oppression of nobles and landlords. The revolt, supported by Ulrich Zwingli, was ultimately crushed when Luther and other leaders supported the nobles. About 100,000 peasants (one-third of the population of German peasants) were killed.
Luther married former nun, Katharina von Bora in 1525. She was 25 and he was 41. They were engaged in the morning and married that same evening. They later had six children.
Luther translated the Bible into German from the original Greek and Hebrew texts. This was the first German Bible that was not translated from the Catholic Latin Vulgate.
Luther wrote many hymns.
Luther had a harsh attitude toward Jews. In 1523, he advised kindness towards Jews in that “Jesus Christ was born a Jew” and he also aimed to convert them to Christianity. When his efforts failed, he grew increasingly bitter, eventually advocating destroying their synagogues, burning their literature, seizing their property, banishing them from the country, and even calling them the antichrist. Hitler and Nazi Germany often used Luther’s words to justify their persecution of the Jews.
Luther is considered by many as, other than a couple kings, the first man in history that was too powerful for the Catholic Church to execute.
Oh, how Luther preached the sovereignty of God and election. He knew it was all of grace. He separated the church from rule by ecclesiastical hierarchy. He tore down the idols. He cast out the confessions to the priests. He denounced the pope.
It was wonderfully good, as he started, but God had said 1500 years before, “Luther, you are going to start things, but your age will see it all unfulfilled, I am leaving that to later.” Hallelujah, our God reigneth! He knows the end from the beginning. Yes, Luther was His messenger.
It didn’t look like it, as we examine the flaws. But there was a man called Jonah, he had flaws in his life too. He was a prophet though you and I might not want to say so on the basis of how he acted. But God knows them that are His and He has His way just as He did with Jonah. He had His way with Luther in that age, and He will have His way until the consummation.
The Sardisean Church Age, Church Age Book