Martin Luther: The Father Of The Protestant Reformation

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The Protestant Reformation took place in the 16th century and it was a religious, political, intellectual, and cultural upheaval that shattered Catholic Europe. It leads to a new settings and structures that redefined the continent in the modern era. In northern and central Europe, reformers like Martin Luther, John Calvin and Henry VII challenged papal authority and questioned the Catholic Church’s ability to define Christian practice. They argued for a religious and political redistribution of power into the hands of Bible- and pamphlet-reading pastors and princes. The disruption triggered wars, persecutions and the so-called Counter-Reformation, the Catholic Church’s delayed but forceful. Having far-reaching political, economic, and social effects, the Reformation became the basis for the founding of Protestantism, one of the three major branches of Christianity.

The main character who was responsible for this reformation was Martin Luther. Luther was born on November 10th, 1483, in the town of Eisleben, today located in northeastern Germany. He received a master’s degree from University of Erfurt, career in law. One day he was going to back to the university and a bolt of lightning struck him and he asked the patron saint of miners “Help me, St. Anne! I will become a monk!” (Cory et al. 317). A week later he joined Observed Augustinians. While he was there questions about salvation troubled him. He would think “How could one ever do enough to earn the grace one needed to be saved?”; “Was he truly sorry for his sins?”; “God is not angry with you, you are angry with God.” He confessed his sins every day but still didn’t find peace. He came to realization- Justification by Grace through Faith (Cory et al. 318). Salvation is achieved by Jesus Christ. Salvation is given to people by grace through faith alone. He became a controversial figure when he wrote “the Ninety-Five Theses” for the selling of indulgences and nailed it to the door of the Wittenberg Castle church. An indulgence was a payment to the Catholic Church that purchased an exemption from punishment (penance) for some types of sins. The customers for indulgences were Catholic believers who feared that if one of their sins went unnoticed or unconfessed, they would spend extra time in purgatory before reaching heaven or worse, wind up in hell for failing to repent. In 1571, Pope Leo X, Authorized Archbishop Albrecht, released a special indulgence. This indulgence had no confession, no guilt, and no punishment to those who contributed the most money. It was to be used to build St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome (Cory et al. 319).

Events quickly accelerated. At a public debate in Leipzig in 1519, when Luther declared that ‘a simple layman armed with the Scriptures’ (Ben Witherington), was superior to both pope and councils without them, he was threatened with excommunication. In June 1520 a papal bull, was published which gave Luther sixty days to recant or be excommunicated. So, he was formally excommunicated by the pope in January of 1521 (Cory et al. 321). Then, Emperor Charles V invited Luther to attend the next diet convened at Worms. They asked him to recant again so the emperor issued the Edict of Worms, declaring Luther an outlaw and subject of capital punishment. During his exile at Wartburg Castle, Luther translated the New Testament into German.

A few years later, a group of peasants in Southern Germany appealed to Luther’s ideas for economic and social justice. The authors at that time wrote peasants demands in The Twelve Articles and they used Luther’s language and ideas (David et al. 325). Luther concluded that there was nothing Christian at stake in the revolt and asked for negotiation. While the princes were killing peasants by thousands, it was quite evident that Luther did not equate social, political, or economic reform with his call for religious renewal. At the peak of the Peasants’ Revolts, Luther took a sudden and unexpected step of marrying a former nun, Katherine von Bora (Cory et al. 326). Although Luther taught for several years that celibacy and monastic asceticism were contrary to the Bible and that priests, monks, and nuns should be free to marry, he had not indicated any desire to do so himself.

Luther criticized the church in various aspects. He criticized the very heart of the church, its theology and practice of sacraments. Of the seven sacraments Luther retained only two: Baptism and the Eucharist. Luther rejected transubstantiation of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. The doctrine used the concept of philosophy of Aristotle. Luther rejected this on the grounds that it is not biblical and it relies on scholastic philosophy (David et al. 322). In Luther’s view, infant baptism not only did not contradict the bible, but it is also proclaimed the central message of justification by grace through faith. He concluded that one should simply accept Jesus’ words in faith and not attempt to use philosophy to describe or explain them.

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After the First Diet of Speyer, it was decided that each German prince was free to act as he saw fir before God and the emperor. At the second Diet of Speyer, Lutheranism was declared and Germany was divided into two camps: Catholic and Protestant (Cory et al. 323). There was a lot of conflict between the two. In 1555, after twenty-five years of conflict, the Peace of Augsburg established the principle that each prince was free to choose either the Roman Catholic or the Lutheran tradition (David et al. 327). As a result of this agreement, most of southern Germany remained Catholic while northern Germany adopted Lutheranism.

This gave birth to the Lutheran Church, Luther spent next twenty years working with his supporters to form the Lutheran Church. He was concerned with the preaching and worship life of the new church, more than its structure. He believed that the true church was found where the Word of God was truly preached and the sacraments rightly administered. He concluded that the Lutheran Church required a good translation of the Bible, a catechism to instruct the young, a reformed liturgy to correct abuses in worship, and a hymnbook to inspire and instruct the people. In 1546, Luther traveled to Eisleben, to settle a feud between the local rulers. He fell ill during the visit to his hometown and died of heart failure on February 18 (Cory et al. 326).

Today, Lutheranism is one of the largest Protestant Christian denominations. According to the Lutheran World Federation, there were over 72 million Lutherans worldwide in 2013. Of these, 35.8 million live in Europe, 20.7 million in Africa, 4 million in North America, 10.7 million in Asia, and 844,000 in Latin America (Religion Facts). Along with Anglicanism, the Reformed and Presbyterian (Calvinist) churches, Methodism, and the Baptist churches, Lutheranism is one of the five major branches of Protestantism. Unlike the Roman Catholic Church, however, Lutheranism is not a single entity. It is organized in autonomous regional or national churches, such as the Church of Sweden or the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Mecklenburg, Germany. Globally, there are some 140 such Lutheran church bodies; 138 of these are loosely joined in the Lutheran World Federation, which was established in 1947 (Hillerbrand). At the beginning of the 21st century, there were more than 65 million Lutherans worldwide, making Lutheranism the second largest Protestant denomination, after the Baptist churches (Hillerbrand).

Of the three leading Lutheran organizations operating in the United States, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is considered the most welcoming and inclusive of LGBTQ members. Formed in 1988 with the merger of three smaller Lutheran organizations, the ELCA is based in Chicago and encompasses nearly 10,000 congregations and more than 3.8 million members across the country (Stances on LGBTQ Issues). In 1991, the Churchwide Assembly passed a resolution stating that, ‘Gay and lesbian people, as individuals created by God, are welcome to participate fully in the life of the congregations of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’ (Stances on LGBTQ Issues). The most interesting part about doing this paper is that I found out that the Lutheran Church accepts LGBT group. Today, church programs include summer camps and homeless shelters for LGBTQ youth, and pastor participation in the “It Gets Better” campaign. Both Sexual Orientation & Gender Identity have been included in their ‘Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust’ Social Statement. Social Statements set policy for the ELCA and guide its advocacy and work as a publicly engaged church. In some ECLA churches across the country, same –sex marriages are celebrated. They are heavy on non-discrimination clause in the workforce and even on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. LGBTQ ministers have been ordained by the ELCA since 2010 (Stances on LGBTQ Issues). However, church policy, like that for same-sex marriage, gives individual congregations autonomy in calling ministers to serve. Women have been ordained in the church since its founding in 1988, and were ordained in the Lutheran churches that formed the ELCA beginning in 1970 (Stances on LGBTQ Issues). As compared to the Baptist Church that I did for my midterm paper, Luther church is more advanced with keeping up with the changing modern times.

The strength and weakness of Christianity in today’s world is that it has so many different branches that people with different beliefs are welcomed in more than one branch. This is also a weakness because Christianity started as one big religion but now it has so many divisions and differences in their beliefs that it’s very hard to find a common ground on so many issues. The question arises that the Christianity started as one, and now its divided into so many pockets, why can’t they all come together? The division is so deeply rooted that them coming together is way harder but them coexisting is somewhat reasonable. After talking to Aloisio Campanha, current senior pastor, at the local Baptist church, he rejected the notion of Catholics, Baptists, Presbyterians, and Lutherans etc. about coming together. There are various other Baptist churches for example Lutheran Baptist Church and Pentecostal Church. All these different divisions because one group has a difference on one topic so they come up with a new branch of church. As being a non-Christian, one thing I noticed is that there are so many churches even in New York. Like every few blocks have a different church. It confused me at first but then I got to realize that every group has a different interpretation of what God is, or how one should perform some rituals, or even a difference as small as one sentence interpreted differently by the other.

Luther could not have imagined in 1517 that his most influential act during the German Reformation, the act which would touch most lives and effect would lead to budding Protestant movement. He and William Tyndale deserve equal billing as the real pioneers of producing translations of the Bible from the original languages into the language of ordinary people, so “they might read it, study it, learn it, and be moved and shaped by it” (Ben Witherington). The Bible of the people, by the people, and especially for the people did not really exist before Luther and Tyndale. When he died, a slip of paper was found in his pocket that summed up his central conviction that people are saved by grace alone: “We are beggars. That is true” (David et al. 330). Luther’s influence is still felt today in his theological and biblical writings, his hymens, and his catechism he wrote to instruct children. His ideas and convictions have left their mark on the church that bears his name. His call for reform was one of many, however, this reform didn’t end with his death. Other reform movements- both Catholic and Protestant- continued to address questions of authority, human nature, and salvation.   

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