Updated: Oct 31, 2018
It was a dark and stormy night. A young law student walked along the road. CRASH! Lightning struck a tree nearby. The young man fell to the ground in terror, and prayed to St. Anne to save him from the storm. He vowed, if he survived, to become a monk.
After the storm, that young man, Martin Luther, kept his vow, and joined the Augustinian order of monks. The year was 1505. Although Martin Luther appeared to have made a poor life choice, throwing away his promising law career, this choice led him down a path that started a movement. A movement that changed the world.
During his time as a monk, and later as priest and college professor, Luther tried very hard to work his way to heaven. He was terrified of the wrath of God that was inflicted upon sinners in purgatory and hell. The more he tried to be perfect, however, the more he realized how deeply flawed and sinful he was.
Martin Luther was tormented by the guilt of his sins and the fear of God’s judgement until he understood the Bible’s Gospel message that Jesus died on the cross for the sins of the whole world, and that all who trust in Him have forgiveness and peace with God–as a free gift.
The Catholic Church of Luther’s day taught that God’s forgiveness was something that had to be earned. The church engaged in the practice of selling “indulgences.” People who bought indulgences thought they were buying God’s forgiveness. This infuriated Luther. Forgiveness was a gift given freely by God, not a piece of paper that had to be bought with money! Had the Church rejected the message of the Bible?
To protest the selling of indulgences and other problems in the church, Martin Luther wrote up a list of topics for debate called the 95 Theses. He nailed the list to the door of his church in Wittenberg, Germany. The church doors were functionally the community’s bulletin board, so Luther’s act made quite a splash! Eventually, the 95 Theses were printed and distributed all over Germany. In fact, a copy even made it to the Pope!
For a while, the Pope took little notice of Luther. He had bigger fish to fry, so he admonished Luther to stop rocking the boat. Luther would not be silenced, however, and in 1520, the Pope excommunicated him, and issued a decree, called a bull, that would label Luther a heretic if he did not take back his controversial teachings within 60 days. For Luther, this was the last straw. He wrote a scathing reply to the Pope’s bull, saying: “As they have excommunicated me for heresy, so I excommunicate them in the name of the sacred truth of God. Christ will judge whose excommunication will stand.”
Martin Luther held fast to the truth of the Gospel as he had discovered it in the Bible, and did not submit, even to the power of the Roman Catholic Church. He did not recant his teachings, and was, therefore, declared an official heretic. His writings were ordered to be burned in all the Christian world. But few, if any, of Luther’s writings were burned that day in Luther’s home town of Wittenberg. In Wittenberg, books containing the anti-scriptural doctrines of the Catholic Church fed the flames, and Luther himself was said to have burned the Pope’s bull.
This was the last straw for the Pope! He ordered the new Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, to sign a death warrant for Martin Luther. The emperor, however, decided to wait in order to hear Luther himself at the church council, or diet, to be held in the German city of Worms. On April 16, 1521, Luther arrived in Worms to speak before the Emperor. At the council, he was asked if he would defend his teachings, or take them back. Martin Luther asked for time to consider his answer, and was given 24 hours.
The next evening, Luther was once again asked if he would take back his teachings. He responded that unless he could be shown through Scripture and sound reasoning that he was wrong, he could not and would not recant any of his teachings. “Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise. God help me!” He said.
The fate of the Christianity as we know it hangs in the balance! How will the Pope respond to Luther's confession? Will the emperor strike back? Did Martin Luther just sign his own death warrant? Find out here: "The Reformation And How It Changed The World: Part II!"