Why was Martin Luther so important for the Christian church?
In 1505, when he was 22 years old, Martin Luther became a monk. He entered the cloister of the strict Augustinian order in the German town of Erfurt. Unbeknown to anyone, Martin’s actions were to start a split in the medieval church which would eventually bring about the Protestant Reformation. Luther did nothing by halves. As a monk he was devoted to his duties, and always worried that he had not done enough to satisfy God. He was sure that God wanted more from him than he could provide. He tried all the ways the church then offered to help someone find peace with God.
When he was sent to Rome on business, he used the opportunity to make his visit a pilgrimage. This, he was told, would please God. He visited the churches that claimed to have sacred relics, things like the head of St Peter. He even climbed, on his hands and knees, the 28 steps in front of the Lateran church, at each step saying the Lord’s Prayer. At the top, instead of feeling a deep sense of peace, he found himself asking “But what if it doesn’t work?” In Rome he also saw how dishonest many of the most powerful men in the Church were. He came back to Germany with two things he had to do. He had to put right the many wrong practices of the church of his time. And he had to find the way to be sure he was right with God.
Back at Erfurt, he asked for help from the monk who was his spiritual adviser. This man told him to read the books St Augustine had written. This then started Luther reading the New Testament, and Paul’s letters in particular. Here, after several years, he was to find his answer in the words: “The righteous will live by faith”. He became convinced that people become “right with God” through faith in Jesus, not by good things they try to do. And that became the centre of what the Protestant Reformation believed.
The other thing Luther’s adviser did was to try to take Martin’s mind off his worries by giving him hard work to do. He was sent to another town, Wittenberg, to become a Professor! That was where he read St Paul’s words. And there he began to tell others what he had learned from Scripture.
Today, if you want people to talk about something, you might post an article on the Internet. Then, in Luther’s town, you nailed a list of ‘articles’ (things for discussion) to the doors of the Castle Church.
On 31 October 1517, Martin Luther nailed a list of 95 things to talk about to the door. They were about the “Indulgences” the church offered. These had come to be seen as a way for people to “buy off ” the wrong things they had done by paying money to the church. The list was soon translated from Latin into German, printed, and distributed in thousands. Luther had gone public. Soon the debate was out in the open. And as he argued with others, Luther found himself asking bigger questions. If things like indulgences were wrong, why had the Pope allowed them? Could the the Pope be trusted? If you shouldn’t believe something just because the church told you to, what were you to trust? The answer the Reformers gave (for Luther wasn’t on his own by now) was – the Bible. And did you need a Priest to bring you to God? No, Luther reasoned, you could come directly to God through Jesus Christ.
These were the main things the Reformation stood for. The rest of Luther’s life was spent making them known to other people. He translated the Bible into German. He organized his churches. He preached, and wrote books. He did the work of ten men. And when he died, he left the world a different place.Bookmark