ð With one swing of a mallet a movement was launched. With one swing of a mallet a world was turned upside down. With one swing of a mallet history was altered. With one swing of a mallet a monk named Martin Luther nailed a document known as “The Ninety-Five Theses” on the church door at Wittenberg.
ð Today is October 31, 2010 which marks not only Halloween but Reformation Day. Today’s message will examine the Life of Martin Luther and what sparked him to become a reformer.
Martin Luther was a man. He was no different than any other with flesh and blood. Indeed, he had his faults (indiscreet language, Jewish racism). But indeed also, he was passionate and bold in his focus on God and the gospel. It’s a reminder that while we may admire Luther we must also remember that every person is a sinner and must be saved by grace. It was this grace and Luther’s humility that led God to use him in ways that would have significant impact on history.
Before we move forward in Luther’s life we must realize that every great movement or influential person is preceded by those who prepared the way. Others tilled the soil so life and growth could occur. For Luther it was
- John Wycliffe in England
- Luther learned importance of placing Bible in people’s hands in understandable language
- John Hus in Bohemia (modern Czech Republic)
- Luther learned to challenge various church practices and functions opposed to Scripture
- Humanist movement in academia to “return to the sources” particularly through a study of Scripture and early church fathers.
- Secular & Sacred society was immoral, spiritual malaise, advances in technology with printing press, medicines, mathematics, physics and traveling a flat earth becoming fearless.
Luther was born November 10, 1483 to a peasant family. His father, Hans Luder, was a miner overseeing two smelting furnaces. Hans and Margeret Luder painstakingly provided for Martin to attend school in hopes for escaping poverty and bring greater status to the family. Their hope was for Martin to become a lawyer after studying grammar, Latin and even religious education. He attended various schools and by the age of 22 had earned both his Bachelors and Master’s degrees in preparation for further study in law. Throughout his studies he performed with academic excellence.
After a journey home he was walking in a thunderstorm and believed God was unleashing the heavens to condemn his soul. Luther had several early spiritual struggles and pictured Christ as a Great Judge. In total desperation Martin cried to the patron saint of miners saying, “Help me, St. Anne, and I will become a monk.” Luther survived the storm and in the following weeks would enter a monastery to become a monk.
The problem was that Luther’s soul felt tortured by God. There was no peace or contentment, he knew he was undeserving and unfit as a creature of God in a fallen world. He quipped to one of his superiors, “Love God? I can’t love God, I hate him.” That superior, Johan Von Staupitz, sent Luther to pursue a doctorate in theology hoping the mental rigor of academia would end his fight with God.
Luther’s study led him to contemplate a contrast in the teachings of Scripture with the current teachings of the Church. His views on sin and salvation; among other things; became radically different than his contemporaries and the Church of his day. Through greater definition of his Scriptural beliefs he sought debate and clarity in which he wrote “The Ninety-Five Theses” and nailed them on the church door on October 31, 1517. In the preface of this document he wrote, “Out of love for the truth and the desire to bring it to light, the following propositions will be discussed at Wittenberg…” Most specifically, Luther was radically against the sale of indulgences (a certificate sold to individuals claiming forgiveness of sins and release from purgatory.
Regarding indulgences, the preachers of the day would say things like:
“Sinners would be made cleaner than when coming out of baptism”
“Sinners would be cleaner than Adam before the Fall”
“as soon as a coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs”
Luther in Thesis 82 said if the Pope had this power, he should use it out of love and freely, not out of trivial reasons – raising money to build St. Peter’s basilica in Rome! Ultimately, Luther saw the sale of indulgences counter to his pastoral ministry. How could he preach about repentance, good works and following Scripture if his parishioners could simply pull out their indulgence certificates? The Christian life became consumer driven rather than Christ-centered.
What further follows is a brief summary of some of Luther’s theological views:
Luther on sin: Rather than seeing sin as individual acts needing penance and confession, he understood Paul and Jesus to teach that sin was at the core/root of our hearts. Therefore sin was not just an action but a condition.
Luther on salvation: Because man has a sinful nature, he needs a righteousness that is outside of himself. There are no deeds, works, penance or confessions that will overcome the roots of sin. He would refer to this as “alien righteousness” or passive righteousness (done for us) vs. active righteousness (done by us)
Luther on Scripture: God in the gospel of Jesus Christ is revealed through Scripture. Therefore, the Bible must become accessible to all people, not just Popes and Priests. Further, the Bible is the final source of authority and belief; not Popes or Councils (Church).
Luther on the Saints: Every person, by grace through faith in Christ, could equally access and serve God as defined in the Scriptures. Luther would say “Every shoemaker can be a priest of God”. The priesthood of the believer diminished hierarchical mindsets in the church and gave reform to multiple areas of practice such as preaching, music and service. All work, either inside or outside the church, was of equal spiritual value and significance to God’s glory.
Luther and Solas: The rallying cry of the reformation came the 5 Solas: Sola Scriptura, Sola Gratia (grace) & Sola Fide (faith), Solus Christus (Christ), Soli Deo Gloria (To glory of God alone)
While standing before his critics he said, “Since then your serene majesty and your lordships seek a simple answer, I will give it in this manner, neither horned nor toothed: Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scripture or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the word of God. I cannot and I will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. [He then added in German] Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me! Amen.”
When asked about his reformation influence he said, “I simply taught, preached and wrote God’s word: otherwise I did nothing. And then, while I slept or drank Wittenberg beer with my Philip of Amsdorf the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that never a prince or emperor did such damage to it. I did nothing: the Word did it all.”
This was a much needed recovery of the gospel proclaimed through the Scriptures. It was through personal encounters in the Scriptures that Luther understood the gospel.
This is a pivotal passage not just to Luther but to all Christianity. It states with clarity and conciseness what it means to believe the gospel and receive salvation. Fundamental to the gospel is having a God-centered perspective in that God is the provider and revealer of salvation, it is His initiative and man is the recipient by faith. Looking further, you can see 2 rewards the gospel gives.
The gospel gives assurance.
Paul says he is not ashamed of the gospel. To state it positively, his pride is in the gospel. If Paul, and ourselves, had pride in our own works it would be fleeting. It would become an endless cycle of attempting good works to over balance our bad. There would never be satisfaction or assurance with God. However, Paul has assurance from the power of the gospel.
The gospel is not merely lifeless discourse but it is a vibrant encounter with a living God. It contains qualitative power available which is available to everyone who believes [continuously – present tense], depending on Christ.
Previously, Luther hated the righteousness of God because he thought it was something [active] he had to achieve and could never attain. It was as God dangled a divine reward never to give but simply to punish from. His breakthrough came when he realized the righteousness of God was something [passive] he had only receive it gave him new life assurance.
“I felt that I had been born anew and that the gates of heaven had been opened. The whole of Scripture gained a new meaning. And from that point on the phrase ‘the justice of God’, no longer filled me with hatred but rather became unspeakably sweet by virtue of a great love.”
The gospel gives atonement.
As mentioned, Paul’s phrase “the righteousness of God” implies an action from God not man. God’s salvation is provided by Himself through Jesus. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross atones for man’s sin. God’s wrath is satisfied in Jesus which in turn allows for God’s mercy to be received in salvation.
Romans 3:23-28 “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.”
1 John 2:2 “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins…”
This is the doctrine of substitutionary atonement. The cross stands at the center of Christianity because of its sufficiency for salvation. Luther became enraged at the means of forgiveness which took away from Christ’s atoning work on the cross. If we view our works added to the gospel gives us faith we make Christ’s work insufficient and the security if our salvation is in doubt. However, the gospel of Jesus gives full atonement proclaiming the cross completes (‘finishes”) what is required of our salvation. It is the full scope of deliverance from God’s wrath in paying for our unrighteousness in order to make us righteous (2 Corinthians 5:21).
ð With one swing of a mallet a movement was launched. With one swing of a mallet a world was turned upside down. With one swing of a mallet history was altered. With one swing of a mallet a Savior was crucified to bring salvation to all who believe.
“Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.” Psalm 32:1
- Will you receive by grace through faith the atoning work of Jesus?
ð Luther was just a man. He swung a mallet and became a reformer. You can become a reformer by swinging your own mallets. What mallets need to be swung in your life?
- Mallet of investing in the next generation
- Luther knew if his movement would sustain teaching children was a crucial and urgent priority
- Spent countless hours with children Hans and little Lena
- Wrote The Small Catechism and other children’s books for discipleship
- “The youth is the church’s nursery and fountainhead. When we are dead, where are those who will take our place if there are no [teaching of the young]… We cannot perpetuate [Christian doctrine] unless we train the people who come after us and succeed us in our office and work, so that they in turn may bring up their children successfully. Thus the Word of God and the Christian church will be preserved. Therefore, let every head of household remember that it is his duty, by God’s injunction and command, to teach or have taught to his children the things they ought to know.”
- Luther knew if his movement would sustain teaching children was a crucial and urgent priority
 Much of this examination is taken from Stephen J. Nichols Martin Luther: A Guided Tour of His Life and Theology, and Justo L. Gonzalez The Story of Christianity Volume 2, The Reformation to the Present Day.