The Reformation was a time of incredible religious and political change
in Europe. Traditions that were centuries old were being questioned and
|Martin Luther after posting his 95 Theses
Although Martin Luther was the first leader to openly depart from the
Roman Catholic church, he did not originally set out to start his own
church. Rather, Luther was a committed church man who sought discussion
and change in the church. As a monk, Luther struggled to understand his
relationship to God, and felt unworthy of God's attention. His
eventual conclusion was that he was not worthy of approaching
God. Thus, any understanding and especially salvation was not deserved or
earned in any way, but was purely a gift of grace from God.
Critiques of the Church
|"... all that the
Pope decrees and does I will receive on condition that I first
test it by the Holy Scriptures."
Martin Luther (1520)
in Snyder, p. 41
This led him to make several critiques of the Roman Catholic church,
- Luther emphasized the doctrine of justification
by grace through faith. This emphasis on "faith
alone" was a significant shift in perspective. In particular, it
undercut the selling of "indulgences," artifacts sold by the
church as symbols of religious devotion. By criticizing this practice
Luther challenged an important source of revenue for the church.
- Pushed by the church hierarchy and backed by some of the German
nobility, Luther rejected the authority of the Pope.
He suggested that the Bible alone should be
the guide for Christian life, and that German Christians did not need
to listen (or pay taxes!) to the Pope in Italy.
- Luther also disagreed with the idea that priests were needed to
approach God on behalf of the people. Rather, he proposed a priesthood
of all believers, saying that people could communicate
with God directly.
- Luther insisted that the church should use the common language
of the people, and not Latin as was the practice in the Roman Catholic
tradition. As a result, Luther led Mass in German and even translated
the entire Bible into this European language.
As you can see, Luther's conclusions had profound religious, political,
and economic implications. It is hardly surprising that the Pope and the
Roman Catholic church responded as they did. These issues provide
important background for the beliefs and difficulties of the early
Created 1998 by Derek Suderman