Reformation of Martin Luther

Reformation of Martin Luther

Martin Luther’s contributions to the Protestant Reformation continue to have a major impact on Christianity in the West and, as missional efforts continue from Protestant groups, in the East as well. Luther’s reformation efforts were brought on by his life experiences, several issues within the Roman Catholic church, and even his own understanding of what the Scriptures really say. Examining the reasoning and causes of Luther’s reformation attempts is vital for Christians today in order to understand where Christianity was, and where it is going.

            Martin Luther was born in Eiselban, Germany in AD 1483 to a mining family. Shortly after his birth his father chose to move to Mansfield in an effort to go from being a miner to owning his own mine and company.[1] As the family began to make more and more moves out of the lower working class, Luther’s father made the decision to send him off to the University of Erfurt in order that Luther would become a lawyer. Luther’s studies were quite successful, and he completed his master’s degree within four years.[2] However, as Luther traveled back to Erfurt after a summer home he was caught in a tremendous storm. So powerful and terrifying was the storm that Luther feared for his life, and in his fear called out to the patron Saint of miners, Anne. Luther vowed that if she would spare his life that he would enter the monastic lifestyle and dedicate his life to be a monk. When the storm subsided, and Luther remained he followed through with his vow.

Luther joined an Augustinian monastery as soon as he made it safely to Erfurt.[3] Luther spent the next several years in the monastery following all of the monastic rituals and growing in his education. During this time Luther, in following with the sacrament of confession, would give his confession daily to his superiors. However, he eventually found himself wondering why he never felt as though he’d confessed enough.[4] This scrupulosity of Luther’s eventually got the better of his superiors and in an attempt to help his constant fret over his sin Luther was sent to the University of Wittenberg to continue in his study.[5] While at Wittenberg Luther began to teach and lecture. Many of his lessons and lectures focused on the Psalms and Paul’s letters to the Romans and the Galatians. It was one day, in 1515, while reading through the letter to the Romans that Paul’s statement, “For in [the Gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘But the righteous man shall live by faith.’”(Romans 1:17)[6], that Luther began to see the errors in the actions and theology of the Roman Catholic church of his day. Luther began to teach that God’s grace isn’t imparted because of the number of good things or actions that the people do, but rather His grace comes through faith in Jesus Christ.[7] Two years later Luther posted his 95 Theses to those in academic and theological positions in order to begin the debate over these issues.

            During Pope Leo X’s continued renovation of St. Peter’s basilica, in order pay for the renovations, he offered yet another indulgence. It was during the sales of this indulgence that Luther began to see the errors in theology of the Roman Catholic church of his day. The 95 Theses that Luther presented focused heavily on the sale of indulgences as an attempt to attain grace. Luther’s 95 Theses begins with a call to any and all who would to debate these issues at Wittenberg in a public setting.[8] What follows is a list of statements Luther intends to debate and have debated in order to bring about the change in the Church that it so desperately needed at the time. It does not appear that Luther’s intention was to break away from the church let alone to have an entire sect of the Church named after him.[9] Instead Luther was striving to bring things to light and combat the evil that had infected the Roman Catholic church to the highest degree.[10]

            In the midst of Luther’s beginning debates on indulgences additional areas of contention became apparent such as the Eucharist and Mass, the authority of the Pope, and the role of faith in salvation. Up to this point in the church the Eucharistic sacrifice was seen not as a gift of thanksgiving but of an act of reconciliation for man.[11] Luther understood that the Eucharist could not be a sacrifice if it were not taken by faith. [12] His treatise On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church addressed several areas of the Lord’s supper including the Roman Catholic practice of only serving bread to the laity.[13] In this document Luther goes into great detail regarding a teacher who had attempted to explain the reasoning behind only using one element instead of both the bread and cup. This teacher tried to use John 6:51, “I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.”, in order to prove his point that in the bread alone is Jesus Christ and the cup is not required. Luther’s response to this shows his understanding of the Scripture and the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.


“The most learned fellow not only refers these words to the Sacrament of the Altar, but because Christ says: “I am the living bread” (John 6:51) and not “I am the living cup,” he actually concludes that we have in this passage the institution of the sacrament in only one kind for the laity. But here follow the words: “For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed” (John 6:55) and, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood” (John 6:53). When it dawned upon the good friar that these words speak undeniably for both kinds and against one kind— presto!”[14]

Luther wrote another document Address to the German Nobility Concerning Christian Liberty in which he begins first with a statement to Pope Leo X calling upon him to repair the damages that have been done to the church. In his statement Luther states that Leo should be aware of the sirens singing in his ear that he, the Pope, is above the authority of a council and the universal church.[15] It would appear that Luther was aware of the ever growing desire for the Pope to be the sole authority for the Church, and he was warning of the dangers that would come from such a situation.

Luther’s understanding of faith being the key to salvation (sola fide)led him to see any and all religions that presented any form of salvation by works to be a part of the false religion.[16] This distinction between the true religion and false religion came down to faith. The false religion is inspired by evil.[17] Even going so far as to declare the Roman Catholic church a part of the false religion and declaring publicly that the Pope was the antichrist.[18] The church’s bishops and cardinals defense of the indulgences, in Luther’s eyes, was the same as defending a salvation by works and thus should be resisted and combated to the highest degree and highest levels.[19]

During his reform movement Luther wrote several books and documents in an attempt to spread his message even further than his preaching could. On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church

While Luther may, or may not, have originally intended to break away from the Roman Catholic church the more that Luther examined the ways of the church, the more a separation became necessary. In 1521 Luther received that separation when was officially excommunicated from the Roman Catholic church.[20] Luther’s contributions to the Christian faith continue to resound to this day. No longer do Christians feel the need to work in order to earn their salvation, the authority in our lives rests in the Scriptures instead of a man, and communion in faith remains about the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Luther continued to preach salvation by faith alone to even his dying words. When asked on his death bed if he wanted to die in the faith he’d preached so heavily, his only response and final word was “Yes”.[21]


[1] Mark Nickens, A Survey of the History of Christianity, (Nashville: Wordsearch Academic, 2018), ch. 5, p 70 WORDsearchBible App.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Mark Nickens, A Survey of the History of Christianity, (Nashville: Wordsearch Academic, 2018), ch. 5, p 71 WORDsearchBible App.

[4] Bruce D. Marshall, “Martin Luther After 500 Years”, Pro Ecclesia: A Journal of Catholic and

Evangelical Theology 27, no. 1, Accessed October 5, 2019, https://go-gale.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/ps/i.do?p=AONE&u=vic_liberty&id=GALE%7CA553166024&v=2.1&it=r&sid=summon

[5] Ibid.

[6] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are taken from the NASB

[7] Nickens, A Survey of the History of Christianity, 72

[8] Timothy F. Lull and William R. Russell editors, Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings, (Fortress Press, 2012), ch 2, p 8, Accessed October 5, 2019, https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/lib/liberty/reader.action?docID=3380966&ppg=33

[9] Bruce D Marshall, “Martin Luther After 500 Years”

[10] Ibid.

[11] Katarína Valcová, “The Theology of the Worship Service According to Martin Luther”, E-Theologos 3, no. 1 (2012), Accessed October 5, 2019, https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/docview/1322268452?pq-origsite=summon

[12] Ibid.

[13] Mark Nickens, A Survey of the History of Christianity, (Nashville: Wordsearch Academic, 2018), ch. 5, p 74 WORDsearchBible App.

[14] Lull and Russell, Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings, 198

[15] Martin Luther, Address to the German Nobility Concerning Christian Liberty, Champaign, Ill: Project Gutenberg. Accessed October 5, 2019. https://search-ebscohost-com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=1085290&site=ehost-live&scope=site.

[16] Wilhelmina Shaw. “Theology of religions in Martin Luther” HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies, Volume 73 Number 6 (27 November 2017), Accessed October 5, 2019, https://hts.org.za/index.php/hts/article/view/4882/11279

[17] Ibid.

[18] Bruce D. Marshall, “Martin Luther After 500 Years”, Pro Ecclesia: A Journal of Catholic and

Evangelical Theology 27, no. 1, Accessed October 5, 2019, https://go-gale.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/ps/i.do?p=AONE&u=vic_liberty&id=GALE%7CA553166024&v=2.1&it=r&sid=summon

[19] Ibid.

[20] Mark Nickens, A Survey of the History of Christianity, (Nashville: Wordsearch Academic, 2018), ch. 5, p 74 WORDsearchBible App.

[21] Nickens, A Survey of the History of Christianity, 75

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