When I first became a Christian, I remember being recommended a book by Tom Nelson of Denton Bible Church called, “What Did Christianity Ever Do For Us?” by Jonathan Hill. In this book, one topic he speaks of is the legendary Martin Luther. This vignette (that I will share with you later) swept me smitten into loving the man of Martin Luther. Not only was he a great man, but if it were not for him, it is very possible the nation of America and it’s mighty ideals may not even have ever been.
So I read this book on Martin Luther. Luther was born into a Catholic family (as all people in Europe did in those days) and his father was a miner. They prayed to God, Mary, and St. Anne, a saint who was thought to protect the miners. Luther’s life changed one day as he strolled through a meadow on a cloudy day. At the time, he was going to school to become a lawyer. But after a fierce thunderstorm (for some reason, Luther was deathly afraid of thunder), he made a pact with God that if he survived, he would dedicate his life to the service of the church. He did indeed survive and to the chagrin of his father, he became a monk in the Augustinian Cloister.
While a monk, Luther had two awakenings: the first had to do with the excesses of what the monastic life had become after a trip to Rome. He saw the debauchery of the monkery and was astounded by the superficial nature of what had become of the monastic life. The second awakening he had was to the idolatry of indulgences.
At the end of the Medieval times, the Catholic Church believed (see: fabricated) the idea of purgatory. This was a place one went to after he died to make penance for unforgiven sins. After awhile here, that person would then ascend into heaven based on the severity of the crimes in your life. the indulgences were twofold: 1) They were items that were from the times of Christ like strands of hair or the bones of Peter. One could see these items and have his time in purgatory reduced. 2) They were payments made to the church to reclaim a lost soul from purgatory.
Luther received a doctorate degree in theology and soon became a professor at a seminary in Wittenberg, Germany. There, he encountered a scoundrel named John Tetzel. This man sold indulgences, and is said to have come up with the rhyme, “when a coin in the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory springs.” This enraged Luther, who had recently studied the book of Romans and believed that the only way to heaven was through justification by faith. As a result, on the eve of “All Saints Day,” Luther posted the famous 95 theses’ that changed the world.
He was summoned by the Pope to Wurms to stand before a Diet where he they wanted him to renounce his theology and his books. Failing to do so, Luther spoke these words:
“Unless I am convicted by scripture and plain reason – I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other – my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise. God help me, Amen!”
Edit: I almost forgot to write what Jonathan Hill said about Luther. Well, check this out: the other quirk about the Medieval Church was they only had the Bible in Latin. It was forbidden to read or translate in anything else (even though the original is in Greek in Hebrew.. Awkward..). Well, Luther thought this to be very wrong since God spoke through the Bible and thus everyone should have the ability to read it. So he translated the Bible into German. This translation proved to be the basis of the German language that is spoken and written in Germany today. Pretty cool!