What About Lutherans?
Who is Matin Luther?

Martin Luther (1483–1546) was born in Eisleben, Germany, the eldest child of Hans and Margarethe Luther. Luther’s father wanted him to become a lawyer and following a series of preparatory schools Martin entered the University of Erfurt in the spring of 1501. Quite unexpectedly, on July 17, 1505, as he neared the end of his studies he entered the Black Cloister of the local Augustinian order (named for the black clothing they wore). Luther would later speak of a severe thunderstorm which had evoked from him a prayer and a vow to become a monk.

Luther did not find peace of mind and soul in the monastery, but determined to keep his vows, he was ordained priest in spring 1507, celebrating his first mass May 2, 1507, in presence of his father, other relatives, and many friends. He continued his studies 1507–12, acquiring the degrees of Biblicus (or lector), Formatus, Sententiarius, and Doctor of Theology awarded October 18–19, 1512. 

Pictured above: 
Bronze statue of Luther with the Bible in his left hand and the papal bull in his right hand. It stands on a pedestal from Swedish granite with four reliefs, showing scenes from Luther's life. Eisleben, Germany.
 
What finally gave Luther the spiritual peace he sought?

In 1511 Luther was called to the University of Wittenberg, where he acepted the chair of Lecturer in Biblical Studies. It was here, in the fall 1514, while lecturing on Psalm 71, he discovered the key to the Bible in the principle of “justification by faith.” He did not fully understand all its implications but realized that he had found the “Gate to Paradise” (WA 54, 186). The Christocentric teaching of “justification by faith” stressed Scripture alone as the sole rule and norm of all doctrine.


 
What does the Bible teach about Justification by Faith?

We believe that God has justified all sinners, that is, he has declared them righteous for the sake of Christ. This is the central message of Scripture upon which the very existence of the church depends. All need forgiveness of sins before God, and Scripture proclaims that all have been justified. "So then, as through one trespass there is condemnation for everyone, so also through one righteous act there is life-giving justification for everyone" (Rom. 5:18 HCSB).

Lutherans believe that individuals do not receive this free gift of forgiveness on the basis of their own works, but only through faith (Ephesians 2:8,9). Justifying faith is trust in Christ and the result of his redemptive work on the cross. This faith justifies not because of any power it has in itself, but only because of the salvation prepared by God in Christ, which it embraces (Romans 3:28; 4:5). On the other hand, although Jesus died for people of all times and places, of all races and social levels, Scripture says that "whoever does not believe will be condemned" (Mark 16:16). Unbelievers forfeit the forgiveness won for them by Christ (John 8:24).

Lutherans believe that people cannot produce this justifying faith, or trust, in their own hearts, because "the man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him" (1 Corinthians 2:14). In fact, "the sinful mind is hostile to God" (Romans 8:7). It is the Holy Spirit who gives people faith to recognize that "Jesus is Lord" (1 Corinthians 12:3). The Holy Spirit works this faith by means of the gospel (Romans 10:17). We believe, therefore, that a person's conversion is entirely the work of God's grace. Rejection of the gospel is, however, entirely the unbeliever's own fault (Matthew 23:37).

Lutherans believe that sinners are saved by grace alone. Grace is the undeserved love of God for sinners. This love led God to give sinners everything they need for their salvation. It is all a gift of God. People do nothing to earn any of it (Ephesians 2:8,9).
Lutherans believe that already before the world was created, God chose those individuals whom he would in time convert through the gospel of Christ and preserve in faith to eternal life (Ephesians 1:4-6; Romans 8:29,30). This election to faith and salvation in no way was caused by anything in people but shows how completely salvation is by grace alone (Romans 11:5,6).


Pictured above: "Descent From the Cross," a public domain image.

 

What did Luther's emphasis on Justification by Faith have to do with the sale of indulgences in Germany?

The idea that God declared  the sinner forgiven by his grace through the gift of faith was too dynamic to leave the medieval church unaffected, conflict was unavoidable. It began in connection with sale of indulgences (the Roman Catholic Church's grants, for a price, of release from temporal punishment due for sins).

Luther posted notice of a debate on the school bulletin board – the north door of the Wittenberg Castle Church -  on  October 31, 1517, listing 95 theses for discussion. He hoped that an academic debate would clarify the subject of indulgences. The theses were in Latin, the academic language of the time. Although the debate was never held, his theses rapidly spread through Germany. Many agreed with Luther's stand with the result that financial returns from indulgence sales in Germany  were greatly reduced.

This financial loss brought immediate reaction from the Dominicans, and from Albert of Brandenburg, who had recently purchased for himself the office of Archbishop Mainz. All these brought pressure to bear on the pope to silence Luther. In September 1518 Luther was summoned to appear at Augsburg before the papal legate Cardinal Cajetan. But the differences could not be reconciled. Cajetan recommended to Frederick III that Luther be either banished or surrendered to Rome.


Pictured above: Bronze statue of Luther in ecclesiastical robe, holding an open Bible in his hands with the text, "Bücher des Alten Testaments ENDE / Das Neue Testament verdeutscht von Doktor Martin Luther," in Wittenberg Sachsen-Anhalt, Germany.
 
 What are the 95 Theses and when they nailed to the church door?

Martin Luther posted the 95 Theses on October 31, 1517. Disturbed by the claims made for indulgences (the Roman Catholic Church's grants, for a price, of release from temporal punishment due for sins), Luther wanted to debate the issue of indulgences publicly. The 95 Theses were intended to be discussion points for that debate in which Luther wanted to take a stand against the sale of indulgences. The theses were written in Latin because the debate was intended for a learned audience of clergy and professors. They were soon translated into German, however, and quickly spread across Germany. Although the posting of the 95 Theses is generally considered to be the beginning of the Reformation, these theses are an early work of Luther and do not fully reflect his later positions on other theological issues.


Pictured above: Luther, portrayed by Joseph Fiennes in the movie Luther (2003), affixed the 95 Theses to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg.
 
What was the result of the growin tension between Luther and Rome?

The bull “Exsurge, Domine” was drafted June 15, 1520. It gave Luther 60 days to recant and required all his writings to be burned. Tension mounted. After much political maneuvering, Charles summoned Luther to appear at a meeting in of Worms the following year.  Luther resisted all efforts to persuade him to recant and reiterated that he could not recant unless convinced of error by Scripture alone. Lacking the necessary support of the German princes to secure Luther's condemnation, Charles waited till the meeting had been dismissed, then declared Luther a heretic and outlaw who could be killed on sight. Luther's prince, Duke Frederick of Saxony, had anticipated this outcome and arranged to have Luther placed in “protective custody” at the Wartburg Castle.

It was at the Wartburg that  Luther final came to the realization that the only solution to the current impasse was a return to the practices and tenets of early Christianity. A prolific writer, while at the Wartburg Luther’s authored the first German translation of the New Testament. 

In March 1522 Luther returned to Wittenberg against the wishes of his prince and began to reorganize worship services. Hymn singing was introduced and the liturgy revised, providing greater participation by the congregation.

Never a robust man and beset by many attacks of illness, Luther led an amazingly active and productive life. Late in 1545 while at Eisleben Luther felt severe pains in the chest. Despite treatment he died early the morning of February 18, 1546,in the presence of his sons Martin and Paul. The testimony of love and esteem with which he was regarded by the people was the homage given his mortal remains as the funeral cortege returned to Wittenberg, where his body was laid to rest in the Castle Church on February 22, 1546. 

Pictured above: "Luther at the Diet of Worms," by Anton von Werner, 1877.


 
Was Martin Luther the one who founded Lutheranism or was it just named after him?

Martin Luther (1483-1546) attempted to reform the church of his day because false teaching and practices contrary to the Holy Scriptures had crept into the church. His efforts were welcomed by some and rejected by others. Initially the followers of Luther called themselves "evangelicals" but later accepted the name Lutheran. Luther would probably be considered the "founder" of the Lutheran church as a separate Christian denomination but he had many able coworkers. 

The official "birthday" of the Lutheran church as a separate and distinct Christian denomination is June 25, 1530. On that day the Augsburg Confession was presented at a diet, or meeting, of the German territories of the Holy Roman Empire in the German city of Augsburg. The confession was written by Philip Melanchthon (1497-1560), a coworker of Luther. The Augsburg Confession was originally subscribed and presented by Duke John Elector of Saxony, George Margrave of Brandenburg, Ernest Duke of Lueneburg, Philip Langrave of Hesse, Frincis Duke of Lueneburg, Wolfgang Prince of Anhalt, the Senate and Magistracy of Nuremburg, and the Senate of Reutlingen. These princes, rulers, and senates of free cities, therefore, might in some ways also be considered "founders" of the Lutheran church.


Pictured above: "Presentation of the Augsburg Confession" in stained glass at Augsburg, Germany, with a quote from Article IV which reads, "
We are freely justified before God through faith for Christ's sake."
 
What was Martin Luther's influence on Christianity?

Historical theologians view the Reformation as the result of a return to Scripture. Martin Luther was searching for peace with a God, whom he viewed as an angry judge. In studying Scripture the Lord led Luther to rediscover the face of a loving God in Christ. In the truth of justification by faith alone, our salvation is not based on our earning God's favor; rather it is entirely the result of God's having forgiven our sins for the sake of our Savior Jesus Christ. Luther, by the grace of God, moved the focus away from what people do for God to what God has done for all people.


Pictured above: Jesus, portrayed by Robert Powell in the movie Jesus of Nazareth (1977).


 
Faith is a living, daring confidence in God's grace, so sure and certain that a man could stake his life on it a thousand times. ~ Martin Luther