Cairns chapter 27: Luther and the German Reformation. Part 1, Luther's Formative Years to 1517
Hurricane Martin Luther was born November 10, 1483 in Eisleben, Germany. His father was a peasant copper miner who eventually struck it rich. The Luthers still struggled, and the mom was known to severely punish Martin until he bled for just stealing a nut.
Still, he believed in working hard and was known for his strong will. In 1501 he attended the University of Erfurt where he studied Aristotle and the teachings of William of Ockham. William believed that revelation was the only guide in the realm of faith, but reason was the guide to truth in philosophy. He separated faith and reason. These teachings only awakened Luther to the need for divine intervention if man is to know spiritual truth and be saved. Philosophy alone would not suffice.
At this time, his father wanted him to study law. However, one day Luther walked in the woods during a storm and nearly got struck by lightning. Therefore, he promised St. Anne that if he survived, he would join a monastery. He joined the one in Erfurt in 1507. At that time, he taught theology at a university in Wittenburg, but studied at Erfurt. His soul struggled with finding peace with the Lord and with trying to perform a penance satisfactorily enough to keep him safe from falling from God's grace. The vicar-general of his monk order, Staupitz, urged him to trust God and to study the Bible.
In 1510-11, he went to Rome and was shocked at all the corruption and luxury that the Roman church enjoyed. He realized that it needed reform. When he left, he returned to teaching at Wittenberg.
He endeavored to lecture on the Bible books in the language spoken in Wittenberg, the vernacular. To do so, he studied the original languages and came to believe that true authority is only found in the Bible. Through translating books such as Psalms, Romans, Galatians, and Hebrews, he finally found the peace that he never found in rituals, asceticism, or in the German theology of the mystics. Reading Romans 1:17 convinced him that only faith in Christ could make one just before God.
Around this time, a brilliant salesman named Johann Tetzel began selling indulgences for the church. Buying an indulgence would give complete forgiveness. Repentance was unnecessary. After seeing one too many people laying drunk in the street who showed him their piece of paper that gave them forgiveness with absolutely no change of heart, Luther snapped. On October 31, 1517, he nailed Ninety-five Theses to the Wittenberg church door. This was not a call for reformation. Luther simply wanted the church officials to reconsider if their teaching of indulgences is correct. At this point, Luther would have died for the pope, and he even thought there was legitimacy to indulgences, but he did not think they were properly carried out under the salesmen such as Tetzel. He wanted the officials to reexamine it. This started a major hurricane that still goes on today.
Does this still apply to today? Can I forget my differences and return to Rome? No. I see church after church living in luxury, its members living as libertines, and they still claim to be Christians even though they support extramarital sex, abortion, redefining marriage, and other blatant attacks on God's creation. I see the current Pope preaching that Jesus is not necessary for salvation. All people can come to heaven if they are sincere. He rules a Church filled with compassion for the homeless, lonely, rejected, and who shows more compassion to pregnant women struggling with thoughts of abortion than anyone else, and still he says they are too obsessed with abortion and gay rights. He doesn't look into the eyes of nuns and others who struggle to bring peace to the earth and try to understand all people while insisting that they don't do enough to reach people.
I see him echoing old theology taught by Rob Bell, Oprah, Gandhi, Bultmann, the French Revolution, and a theology that has gone on since the fall of man. Man wants to insist on finding his own way to God when Jesus clearly said there is no way apart from Jesus. Jesus gave his life for his people and people gave their lives to defend Jesus as the only savior. Now, people of all denominations simply want to have parties and enjoy good music and just be nice to people building a utopia while poverty, abortion, abuse, and other horrors increase.
I've been reading this week in the first chapter of Calvin's Institutes. Man cannot know himself unless he knows God. If he keeps his eye on the ground, then what he does will be righteous and impressive. Then he looks up to see God in all his perfection. Like Isaiah in his 6th chapter, he completely freaks out because he saw the Holy God while he himself is completely corrupt. Everyone from Johann Tetzel to Martin Luther to myself try to impress with works and alms, but we look at Jesus and notice that we having nothing to brag about. Our righteousness are the same to God as dirty rags used for menstruation. We still are not at the point where we can look away from ourselves and realize that we aren't that awesome. We're far from it. Until Christ returns and sets that straight, the hurricane of the Reformation will just continue.