Lutheran Reformation

Lutheran Reformation

The man who started it all

            On November 10, 1483 in Eisleben, Germany a man named Martin Luther was born. His parents decided to name him Martin because he was baptized on St. Martin of Tours, feast day. He was raised by his stern catholic parents who provided Martin an early education in Magdeburg and Eisenach. Martin’s college life led him to University of Erfurt where he obtained his Bachelors and Master’s degrees and he began studying law afterwards according to his parents’ wishes. Martin’s decision to become a monk is an interesting story, on the way home one summer day he got caught in a violent thunderstorm, nearly struck by lightning he cried out, “Saint Ann, help me, I will become a monk.”[1] He was unharmed and true to his word he began his monastic life at the monastery of the Observant Augustinian friars.

Martin’s dedication to the monastic life should have named him the monks of all monks. He practiced flagellating, denying himself creature comforts such as blankets and food, and other practices to gain spiritual discipline. James Sawyer, author of The Survivor’s Guide to Theology, documented Martin Luther as stating that, “If anyone could have earned heaven by the life of a monk, it was I.”[2] In 1507, Martin became a priest and during his first attempt at holding mass, his hands shook worse than a bouncy castle at the state fair. The idea of a horrible sinner, like himself, holding the body of God’s Son, Jesus Christ, in his hands horrified him. What troubled Martin even more was his inability to please and live up to God’s standard. Martin struggled with a verse in the book of Romans that Paul had writing, “Romans 1:17, “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’” Martin knew he was not righteous and therefore he could not live by faith. It was not until he became a professor at Wittenberg University the answer came to him. Martin stated, “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.”[3] This was the turning point in Martin’s life.

Martin Luther’s new found perspective

            As Martin continued to study the Bible, he concluded that the Catholic Church was not properly observing the things that God has set before them and their theology was wrong. Church history changed on October 31, 1517. Martin nailed 95 theses to the Church of Wittenberg’s door, expecting the Catholic Church to defend their stance. “Cheap grace,” as Martin called it, was one of those issues he debated. The Catholic Church believed in purgatory—a place where the dead is held until their unaccounted for sins were paid for, then they could go to heaven. The Catholic Church then sold indulgence cards that could be purchased for the dead, and this would allow the dead to leave purgatory early. This weakened the idea of penance. This led to Martin’s opening sentence in The 95 Theses reading, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said ‘‘Repent’’, he meant for the entire life to be one of repentance.”[4] Soon after the subject went from indulgences to the authority of the church. Other theological points that stemmed from this were baptism, the Lord’s Supper, universal priesthood, the Law and the Gospel. “Ninety-five Theses were only the beginning of a campaign that within ten years abolished most of late medieval religiosity—spirituality—in the evangelical churches of Saxony.”[5]

Major Events

The very first major event was in 1517, on All Saints Eve. A preacher named, Johann Tetzel was selling indulgence cards and as he preached he stated, “Once the coin into the coffer clings, a soul from purgatory heavenward springs!”[6] Martin contested the selling of indulgences and demanded a public debate. Which leads to the next important date, the public debate in Leipzig in July of 1519. In this debate Martin stated, “A simple layman armed with the Scriptures” was superior to both pope and councils without them,”[7] and this is where impending excommunication loomed. Martin replied to the excommunication threats with three arguments, universal priesthood, claiming that all Christians were priests, he took the Catholics seven sacraments down to two, baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and “he told Christians they were free from the law (especially church laws) but bound in love to their neighbors.”[8] Martin was finally excommunicated in December of 1520 where he burned the corpus of canon law and the papal bull Exsurge Domine. Shortly after in 1521, Martin showed up at the assembly of Worms expecting another debate. Soon after his arrival he realized it was a trial and Martin was asked to withdraw his views. Martin refused to withdraw his views until someone could show him where he was wrong in scripture. His reply infuriated the assembly and Martin barely escaped and hid for ten months.

The Peasants War broke out in 1524-1525, whether it was due to religious disputes, or they saw their rights slipping away, it is still yet to be known. Martin rebuked the peasants and encouraged the princes to destroy the insurgence. In April of 1523, Luther’s love life was about to change. Phillip and David Schaff writes, several nuns fled from Nimptsch to Wittenberg and begged Martin for help. There he met Katharina von Bora. Katharina was to marry a student of Wittenberg but was dumped as he married a richer woman. Afterwards Martin played matchmaker and set up Katharina with Dr. Glatz in which Katharina refused. Katharina then made it known that she would not deny Luther or Amsdorf her hand in marriage. “May 4, 1525, he wrote to Dr. Ruehel (councilor of Count Albrecht of Mansfeld, and of Cardinal Albrecht of Mainz), that he would, take his Katie to wife before he died, in spite of the Devil.”[9] Finally on June 13, a Tuesday after Trinity Sunday, in front of the Lord and some close friends, Luther married Katharina von Bora, his wife and now partner in ministry.[10] Martin continued his ministry with a fire that could not be put out and by 1546 it caught up with him. In February of 1546 Martin Luther passed away in the town in which he was born, Eisleben.

Significant writings

            Some of Martin’s significant writings began in 1520 as he argued against the threat of excommunication. In Martins’ book, An Appeal to the Nobility of the German Nation, Luther urged the church to eradicate three ideals the pope had against the Christian church. These ideals were, papal decrees overrode church councils, church tradition over scripture, and church officials did not have to answer to civil government. Next, On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church, Martin stated that there were not seven sacraments in the Bible, rather there were only two—baptism and the Lord’s Supper. In the same year Martin wrote, On the Freedom of the Christian, he states, one cannot work their way into heaven, and that Christians are justified by faith alone. Next, Martin translated the New Testament into German and this was published in 1522. Martin continued to work on the Old Testament and in 1534 a complete translation of the Bible was published. In 1525 Luther published, On the Bondage of the Will, which was in response to Erasmus’s attack on Luther’s writings in, On the Freedom of Will. Martin also wrote Small and Large Catechism, which are creeds in a question and answer format which are still used in Lutheran churches today. Other writings that should be read and studied, Disputation against Scholastic Theology, Heidelberg Disputation, Two Kinds of Righteousness. There were many other letters, hymns, commentaries, and sermons written by Luther that influenced the reformation.


            Martin Luther had an amazing life, in which many should be appreciative to the man who decided to step away from what he was told and expected of him, to a man who wanted to get back to the basics of the Bible. It is also important to note that Martin was not the only one that had a hand in the Reformation. For starters, two other men to include is Huldrych Zwingli who began the Swiss confederation and a reformation outside of Germany and John Calvin who had his hand in different areas such as Scotland, Hungary, Germany to name a few. Last but not least, Katharina had a hand as well. It may not be documented but one can be sure she was there when Dr. Luther needed encouragement or was in need and she supported him all the way.


Galli, Mark, and Ted Olsen. Introduction: 131 Christians Everyone Should Know. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000.

Hendrix, Scott H. “Martin Luther’s Reformation of Spirituality.” Lutheran Quarterly (ATLASerials EBSCOhost) 13, no. 3 (1999): 249-70.

Larsen, Timothy, D. W Bebbington, and Mark A Noll. Biographical Dictionary of Evangelicals. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003.

Sawyer, James. The Survivor’s Guide to Thelogy. Grand Rapids , MI: Zondervan, 2006.

Schaff, Phillip, and David Scheley Schaff. History of the Christian Church. Michigan, 1910.

[1] Timothy Larsen, D. W. Bebbington, and Mark A. Noll, Biographical Dictionary of Evangelicals (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 376.

[2] Sawyer, James Sawyer. The Survivor’s Guide to Thelogy. (Grand Rapids , MI: Zondervan, 2006), 288.

[3] Mark Galli and Ted Olsen, “Introduction,” in 131 Christians Everyone Should Know (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000), 34–35.

[4] Timothy Larsen, D. W. Bebbington, and Mark A. Noll, Biographical Dictionary of Evangelicals (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 377.

[5] Scott H Hendrix. 1999. “Martin Luther’s Reformation of Spirituality.” Lutheran Quarterly 13, no. 3: 249-270. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed September 6, 2013).

[6] Mark Galli and Ted Olsen, “Introduction,” in 131 Christians Everyone Should Know (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000), 35.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Philip Schaff and David Schley Schaff, History of the Christian Church, vol. 7 (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1910), 458.

[10] Ibid.


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2 Responses to Lutheran Reformation

  1. Adam Zuleger says:

    excellent work! thanks for the refresher. i hope thats a typo on the year Luther died. 🙂

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