A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to speak on and teach the “Solas” of the Reformation at a friend’s church. I also had the opportunity to make booklets that served as our curriculum for the day. In the booklet I included a short introduction to Martin Luther which appears here for Reformation weekend. JRB SDG
Spend an hour with me and you will either love or hate the monk Martin Luther of Germany by the time that hour has passed. Luther had a dog named Klutz. He married a run away nun that had escaped a nunnery, I mean convent, in a fish barrel. He referred to her as his rib, or more humorously kette – German for chain! ( a play on her actual pet name of Katie). He enjoyed gathering people around just to talk for a while, and many took notes at these meetings. I have actually been in the living room at his house where these meetings took place, and it is the only room to have remained unchanged since Luther’s time. What these students, friends, and his wife wrote down would eventually become a book called, “Table Talk.” In Luther’s Table Talk he is just as likely to espouse some wonderful theological wisdom as he is to quip something like, “I fart to chase the devil away!”
Buying one’s way out of punishment and into pardon may seem like a simple system to many. The problem with this is when money runs out, so does grace. It is not difficult to see this as a flawed system. However, this issue would be one of many in the mind of Martin Luther, as he wrestled with multitudes of angels and devils as he saw the world shift before his eyes. Martin had come from a simple background with a strict mother and stern father. His dad, a mine worker, had hoped better for his son, saving every penny in order to send him to law school. As a young man Luther experienced a frightful travesty in the mind of someone entrapped in the mystical and superstitious mindset of a literal “middle-age” man: A lightning storm. As lightning knocked him from his horse he cried out to St. Ann (grandmother of Jesus and patron Saint of miners), “I will become a monk!” – and that he did, much to the displeasure of his father who had worked hard for Luther’s chance at success. He became the best monk a monk could be. He worked diligently for righteousness harder than his dad had worked for his future, but to no avail. It would not be until years later in a monastery tower, when studying the book of Romans in the Greek language as a Doctor of Theology that he could come to grips with what God required of him. God required absolutely nothing but faith, and faith alone, which God supplied through the grace of His Son Jesus Christ, his life, death, and resurrection. He said it was at this moment that a light shined forth and he truly felt born again. He wanted to tell the world! – and that, he did.
The practice of selling indulgences had been around for quite sometime. For the right price, for the right price and upon viewing a “relic”, or by saying the right prayer, an individual could purchase merit that had been gained by Christ or one of the Saints to shorten his or her stay in purgatory. As a monk, Luther himself would pay such prices in Rome. However, he questioned this practice as he climbed the steps that Pilate had supposedly pronounced the sentence on Jesus. After his so called “tower experience,” the gospel meant much to Luther and indulgences meant less than little. He even taught in his classes of the inherent problems in the system – including the relics (of which his protective prince, Frederick the Wise, was an avid collector). His classes erupted in laughter as he proclaimed that there were enough nails from the Holy Cross in Rome to shoe every horse in Saxony! He could politely ignore what he supposed to be superstition at this point – until it touched the lives of his parishioners. It was time to ask some major questions and to name names. One such name was John Tetzel, who proclaimed, “As soon as a coin in the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory springs.” So, on October 31, 1517, the day before All Saints Day, when many would come to Wittenberg to view relics and pay such prices, he posted a list of 95 declarations and debatable items in reference to these indulgences in Latin so the learned among them might debate their veracity. So with a mallet and a few nails, he went to the “Castle Church” and posted his questions, liable to cause quite a stir in the theologically savvy town and university of Wittenberg over the next 24 hours and weeks to follow. What he did not consider at the moment was the possibility of his complaints being made public by the best text messaging technology available – the printing press. His “95 Theses” were translated into German and spread like wildfire throughout the country. His voice would be heard in the Vatican in just a little over two weeks. What he heard back from the Vatican, even he did not expect. The entire system was corrupt. “The Church” had abandoned the gospel altogether and had instead exchanged the riches of Christ for the riches of the world and was taking advantage of the greed and gullibility of the general public. The stage was set for Reformation, and the one destined to become the leading protagonist had unknowingly played the first scene.