Habakkuk 2:4 says, “Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him: but the just shall live by his faith.” This verse is quoted by the Apostle Paul three times in the New Testament: Rom 1:16-17, Gal 3:11-12, & Heb 10:38-39. Out the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established (2Cor 13:1). So what is established? The just (or righteous) shall live by faith. This became revelation to Martin Luther. While reading Romans 1:17, his eyes were opened to the truth. This truth then led to the greatest movement in church history – the Protestant Reformation.
Martin Luther was a Catholic monk of the Augustinian order in Germany in the early 1500s. In 1512, he became a professor of Biblical Studies at the University of Wittenberg as well. Luther struggled to be right with God, and no matter how many fastings, prayers, penances, and physical discomforts he subjected himself to, he never achieved this peace. However, while studying the Book of Romans, he came to the rightful conclusion that the righteous live by faith. He became a popular teacher and speaker and wrote many theological papers.
To raise money to build St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, Johann Tetzel, a Dominican friar, rode through towns proclaiming, “When the coin in the coffer rings, another soul from purgatory springs.” What did this mean? It meant you could “buy” the forgiveness of sins - as well as loved ones out of purgatory. It was called selling indulgences, and it was unbiblical, ungodly, and wicked. Martin Luther felt the same way, and wrote a paper called the Ninety-Five Theses, where he addressed this wrong, and wanted to bring it up for discussion.
On October 31st, 1517, Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church. It was a public posting, challenging the unethical practices of the Roman church. It became widely circulated and popular in Germany. Little did Luther know his challenge would be a match that would start the forest fire of the Reformation.
Eventually the Papacy issued a decree that commanded Luther to recant half the arguments in his Ninety-Five Theses or he would be excommunicated. He had 60 days to decide. At the end of 60 days, on Dec 10, 1520, Luther declared the decree “The Bull of the Antichrist” and threw it in a bonfire outside the city gates.
In 1521, Luther was excommunicated and declared a heretic. A few months later he was summoned to the Diet of Worms (dee-it of vorms), and told to recant his books. He stood and said, “I cannot recant the substance of my writings. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.”
He was later “kidnapped” by a friend and in hiding for almost a year while he translated the New testament into German.
Martin Luther wasn’t perfect, but he should be commended for the guts it took to stand against the Church of Rome during a time in history when you could be put to death for doing so. He was a tremendous man of courage, and was used mightily of God to begin to bring about change, and bring the world out of the dark ages of Papal supremacy.
October 31st should be a great day of celebration for Christians. Thank God we have the Bible in our language. Thank God we can worship God in spirit and in truth, without fear of torture or death. Thank God we don’t have to worry about a murderous crusade against our church or town because we try to practice what the Bible teaches. During Luther’s time, such was not the case. We must know our church history, or we will be in danger of repeating it. Tyranny thrives on ignorance, whether in the government or in the church. We need to know what the Bible says. We need to practice it. We need to study our church history. We need not to repeat it. Read Foxe’s Book of Martyrs for a healthy dose of church history.
Next week, we will examine more carefully the words “Just”, “Live”, and “Faith.” Again, this is established by four witnesses in Scripture, so we need to know this firmly. I pray you have a blessed Reformation Day, and, until next time, rejoice in The Lord!